What use we should make of Gods sparing us from the woeful afflictions which have befallen, and do befall others
Now, what use should we make of this difference?
First, we need to examine whether our prosperity is in love or not, whether it be sanctified unto us or not;
For we have a great deal more than God’s people use to have: And we shall know it by this, if the chief thing we rejoice in, in the enjoyment of our prosperity, be the opportunity of service for God, that we have by it.
Secondly, let us admire God’s goodness to us, and bless his name:
How favorable is the Lord to us, who spares us, that we suffer little or nothing in comparison to what others have done? We are weak, and if we should have felt such things as others have, what should have become of us? They endured spoiling of their goods, imprisonment, tortures, but we may go to Heaven, and have peace, comfort, the use of the creature, houses, lands, friends: had we only the blessings of the upper springs, although we wanted wholly the blessings of the nether, we were happy; but oh the goodness of our God unto us, we do plentifully enjoy both!
Though a man does lose all the world and win his soul, although he begs his bread from door to door, if he is saved at last, he is a happy man, happy that ever he was born: but we may save our souls, and yet have the good things of the world too.
But it may be said; A suffering condition is a joyful condition; why then should we thus bless God that we are freed from it?
Answ. 1. Sufferings in themselves have no good, but as God uses them, and turns them unto good; now God can use and turn prosperity into good as well if he please, and prosperity hath good in it self, and in the use of it too.
2. The Apostle Saint James, Chap. 1:6. calls for joy in both conditions; Let the brother of high degree rejoice, when he is abased, and the brother of low degree, in that he is exalted; it seems we are not fit for sufferings, and therefore our present condition is a mercy.
Thirdly, seeing God spares us so much from sufferings, and calls us not to such passive obedience as formerly he hath called his servants,
Let us, therefore, labor to be more abundant in active obedience, in giving God the glory of that peace and many liberties, and those comforts that we do enjoy, which we might have been deprived of by the malice of men; let our strength now be employed for God, in doing service, which might have been spent in suffering the rage of man, yea, might have been spent in bearing the wrath of God himself: O how much better is it, that we have it to spend it in doing service for God in an active way, for his praise and our own comfort!
The more peace and outward comforts, the more service is due to God. It is observable that Solomons Altar was four times as big as Moses’s. We read Exod. 27:1. That Moses was to make an Altar five cubits long, five broad, and three high, but Solomon made an Altar twenty cubits long, and twenty cubits broad. Moses was in the wilderness, in an unsettled condition, full of troubles: Solomon on his Throne, in a peaceable condition, full of prosperity; as our peace and prosperity is more than others, so our service should be more than theirs, and that in a due proportion.
Salvian writing about the condition of Gods people in their suffering of affliction,* answers an Objection that some might make. But we do not live under persecuting Emperors, as formerly Christians did. To that he says, By how much the less they were in their passive obedience, by so much the more they should be in their active obedience. God is content, says he, that our peace should serve him, that we should please him, in the purity of actions undefiled, in the holiness of a life unspotted; by so much the more is our faithfulness and devotion indebted to him, because he requires of us smaller things, and hath granted greater things unto us: and therefore seeing Princes are Christians, there is no persecution, Religion is not disturbed, we are not compelled to manifest the proof of our faith by harder trials, we ought so much the more to please the Lord in inferior duties.
He instances in divers particulars: as Christ (says he) commands us not to strive, and contend with one another, but rather to put up wrong, let us obey him in this, seeing he frees us from such great and dreadful miseries, which others have suffered before us. Again, Christ would have us do that to others, which we would have others do to us; let us obey him in this. He commands us by his Apostle, that we should not seek that which is our own, but everyone seek the good of another: he requires of us to love our enemies, and to take heed of the occasions of evil, &c. Although duties be never so hard to flesh and blood, yet let us set upon them.
It was an excellent speech of Eusebius Emesenus; Our forefathers did strive against sharp piercing griefs, let us be willing to strive against the most excellent pleasures; They overcame the torments of the flames, let us overcome the fiery darts of vices.
Fourthly, let us take heed of the least froward murmuring and repining at little crosses, that sometimes we meet withal.
What, are we discontented at such small afflictions? at such light things? when as others (our betters) have suffered such hard, such grievous, such lamentable things; that our hearts do ache at the very hearing of. What is our flesh better than theirs, that we must have ours so pampered, when as theirs was so grievously tormented? How far are you from resisting unto blood? O what an unworthy thing is this in Christians, to vex and fret at every small cross; when they read and hear what others have suffered before them! all our troubles are but as the slivers and chips of that cross, upon which they have been crucified.
Fifthly, be willing to abate somewhat of your delight in the creature that you do enjoy,
Do not give liberty to yourselves, to satisfy yourselves to the full: Is it seemly that when Gods choice Servants have suffered, and still do suffer such hard things, that you should delight and rejoice to the utmost in giving content unto the flesh?
You know how it was with Uriah; while the Ark, and his Lord Joab were in the field, he would not go down to his house to solace himself there. Josephus de bello Judaico lib. 6. reports of Titus, when he had by his conquest brought the Jews into miserable extremities, that some of the Priests petitioning him for their lives, he commanded them to be slain, saying, they were of degenerate minds that they desired to live, when their people and Religion suffered so much as it did: Titus a Heathen judged thus of them; of what degenerate minds then are those, who not only desire to live, but to live in pomp, in bravery, in giving liberty to themselves in all sensual delights, in abating nothing of their carnal contentments, when they see and hear of the Churches of God suffering grievous things, brought unto lamentable straights under the burthen of most heavy and sore afflictions?
The like we find related of Anchises Æneas his father; when Æneas would have saved his life, Far be it from me, says he, that I should desire to live when Troy suffers that it does: Absit, ut excisa possim supervivere Troia.
Far then be it from us to desire to live deliciously, when not Troy, but the Churches of God suffer such things as they do. It is reported of Alexander, that being in extreme thirst when a little water was offered to him, he thought it a hard thing and not Princely, for him alone to quench his thirst, when others in his Army had not wherewithal to abate theirs; wherefore he gives back again the cup with this speech, saying, I cannot bear to drink alone, and here is not enough to divide amongst the rest.
Sixthly, let us learn to be compassionate towards them that do suffer;
While the bowels of others are torn out by the rage of men, let the bowels of our compassion work towards them, let us be even in bonds with those that are bound, in all our peace, liberties, and comforts, let us remember them, let us pray for them, and as much as we are able, relieve them, and help to bear their burthens.
Seventhly, let us lay hold upon our opportunities of peace and liberties that we do enjoy, to edify ourselves in our most holy faith:
Let us make use of our peace to prepare us for the times of affliction, which God may call us unto. This was the care of the Churches when they had got a little rest from their enemies, Acts 9:31. Then had the Churches rest through all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and were edified, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the holy Ghost, were multiplied.
It is wisdom while our ship is in the haven, to mend it there, and to prepare it for storms, that it may meet withal at sea; when storms arise, it is no time then: ships lie in the harbor on purpose to prepare them for the dangers they meet withal afterward in Sea. Naturalists tell us, that while the Halcyon bird is brooding her eggs, and bringing forth her young ones, there is usually fair weather; from whence we call pleasant weather, Halcyon days; she neglects not any of those days, but is diligent in bringing forth her young: God gives us fair weather, much peace, that we may be diligent in our work, to provide for after-times: let none of those Halcyon days be lost.
Jeremiah Burroughs, Moses His Choice, with His Eye Fixed upon Heaven: Discovering the Happy Condition of a Self-Denying Heart, (London: John Field, 1650), 25–31.