Christian, when you are “Smarting” under the Rod. Part 4. “The Spirit of a Holy Silence”

Excerpts taken, adapted and condensed from, “Mute Christian under the Smarting Rod” or, “The Silent Soul with Sovereign Antidotes”
Written by, Thomas Brooks, 1659, London.

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A holy, a prudent silence under affliction does not exclude and shut out a sense and feeling of our afflictions…

Psalm 39:9, though he ‘was silent, and laid his hand upon his mouth,’ yet he was very sensible of his affliction—verses 10, 11, ‘Remove your scourge from me; I am overcome by the blow of your hand. You rebuke and discipline men for their sin; you consume their wealth like a moth—each man is but a breath.’ He is sensible of his pain as well as of his sin; and having prayed off his sin in the former verses, he labors here to pray off his pain.

Diseases, aches, sicknesses, pains—they are all the daughters of sin, and he who is not sensible of them as the births and products of sin, does but add to his sin and provoke the Lord to add to his sufferings, Isaiah 26:9-11. No man shall ever be charged by God for feeling his burden, if he neither frets nor faints under it. Grace does not destroy nature—but rather perfects it. Grace is of a noble offspring; it neither turns men into stocks nor to stoics. The more grace, the more sensible of the tokens, frowns, blows, and lashes—of a displeased Father. Though Calvin, under his greatest pains, was never heard to mutter nor murmur, yet he was heard often to say ‘How long, Lord, how long?’ A pious commander being shot in battle, when the wound was searched, and the bullet cut out, some standing by, pitying his pain, he replied, Though I groan, yet I bless God I do not grumble. God allows his people to groan, though not to grumble. It is a God-provoking sin to lie stupid and senseless under the afflicting hand of God. God will heat that man’s furnace of affliction sevenfold hotter, who is in the furnace but feels it not.

“Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways; they did not obey his law. So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them—but they did not take it to heart.” Isaiah 42:24-25. Stupidity lays a man open to the greatest fury and severity.

The physician, when he finds that the potion which he has given his patient will not work, he seconds it with one more violent one; and if that will not work, he gives another yet more violent one. If a gentle plaster will not serve, then the surgeon applies that which is more corroding; and if that will not do, then he makes use of his knife! So when the Lord afflicts, and men feel it not; when he strikes and they grieve not; when he wounds them, and they awake not—then the furnace is made hotter than ever; then his fury burns, then he lays on irons upon irons, bolt upon bolt, and chain upon chain, until he has made their lives a hell. Afflictions are the saints’ medicines; and where do you read in all the Scripture that ever any of the saints drunk of these medicines, and were not sensible of it.

A holy, a prudent, silence does not shut out prayer for deliverance out of our afflictions. Though the psalmist lays his hand upon his mouth in the text, yet he prays for deliverance—”Remove your scourge from me; I am overcome by the blow of your hand. Hear my prayer, O Lord, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were. Look away from me, that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more.” Psalm 39:10-13. ‘Is any among you afflicted? let him pray.’ James 5:13. ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble—I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.’ Psalm 50:15

Times of affliction, by God’s own injunction, are special times of supplication. David’s heart was more often out of tune than his harp; but then he prays and presently cries, ‘Return to your rest O my soul.’ Jonah prays in the whale’s belly, and Daniel prays when among the lions, and Job prays when on the ash-heap, and Jeremiah prays when in the dungeon. Yes, the heathen mariners, as stout as they were, when in a storm, they cry every man to his god, Jonah 1:5, 6. To call upon God, especially in times of distress and trouble, is a lesson that the very light and law of nature teaches. The Persian messenger, though a heathen, says thus—’When the Grecian forces hotly pursued our army, and we must needs venture over the great water Strymon, frozen then—but beginning to thaw, when a hundred to one we had all died for it, with my eyes I saw many of those gallants whom I had heard before so boldly maintain there was no God, every one upon his knees, and devoutly praying that the ice might hold until they got over.’ And shall blind heathen nature do more than grace? If the time of affliction be not a time of supplication, I know not what is.

There are two kinds of antidotes against all the troubles and afflictions of this life, that is, prayer and patience—the one hot, the other cold—the one quenching, the other quickening. Chrysostom understood this well enough when he cried out—Oh! says he, it is more bitter than death to be robbed of prayer; and thereupon observes that Daniel chose rather to run the hazard of his life, than to lose his prayer. Well! This is the second thing. A holy silence does not exclude prayer; but,

A holy, a prudent silence does not exclude men’s being kindly affected and afflicted with their sins, as the meritorious cause of all their sorrows and sufferings, Lam. 3:39, 40, ‘Why does a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sin? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.’ Job 40:4, 6, ‘Behold, I am vile, what shall I answer you? I will lay my hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken—but I will not answer; yes, thrice—but I proceed no further.’ Micah 7:9, ‘I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned.’ In all our sorrows we should read our sins! When God’s hand is upon our backs, our hands should be upon our sins.

It was a good saying of one, ‘I hide not my sins—but I show them. I wipe them not away—but I sprinkle them; I do not excuse them—but accuse them. The beginning of my salvation is the knowledge of my transgression.’ When some told Prince Henry, that darling of mankind, that the sins of the people brought that affliction on him, “Oh no!” said he, “I have sins enough of my own to cause that.” ‘I have sinned,’ says David, ‘but what have these poor sheep done?’ 2 Sam. 24:17. When a Christian is under the afflicting hand of God, he may well say, ‘I may thank this proud heart of mine, this worldly heart, this froward heart, this formal heart, this dull heart, this backsliding heart, this self-seeking heart of mine—for this cup is so bitter, this pain so grievous, this loss so great, this disease so desperate, this wound so incurable! It is my own self, my own sin—which has caused these floods of sorrows to break in upon me! But,

A holy, a prudent silence does not exclude the teaching and instructing of others, when we are afflicted. The words of the afflicted stick close; they many times work strongly, powerfully, strangely savingly, upon the souls and consciences of others. Many of Paul’s epistles were written to the churches when he was in prison, that is, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon; he begot Onesimus in his bonds, Philemon verse 10. And many of the brethren in the Lord waxed bold and confident by his bonds, and were confirmed, and made partakers of grace by his ministry, when he was in bonds, Philip. 1:7, 13, 14.

As the words of dying people do many times stick and work gloriously, so many times do the words of afflicted people work very nobly and efficaciously. I have read of one Adrianus, who, seeing the martyrs suffer such grievous things for the cause of Christ, he asked what that was which enabled them to suffer such things? and one of them named that 1 Cor. 2:9, ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.’ This word was like apples of gold in pictures of silver, Prov. 25:11, for it made hint not only a convert—but a martyr too. And this was the means of Justin Martyr’s conversion, as himself confesses.

Doubtless, many have been made happy by the words of the afflicted. The tongue of the afflicted has been to many as choice silver. The words of the afflicted many times are both pleasing and profitable; they tickle the ear, and they win upon the heart; they slide insensibly into the hearers’ souls, and work efficaciously upon the hearers’ hearts—Eccles. 10:12, ‘The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious.’ Jerome reads it, “the words of the mouth of a wise man are grace.” They minister grace to others, and they win grace and favor from others. Gracious lips make gracious hearts; gracious words are a grace, an ornament to the speaker, and they are a comfort, a delight, and an advantage to the hearer.

Now, the words of a wise man’s mouth are never more gracious, than when he is most afflicted and distressed. Now, you shall find most worth and weight in his words; now his lips, like the spouse’s, are like a thread of scarlet; they are red with talking much of a crucified Christ; and they are thin like a thread—not swelled with vain and unprofitable discourses. Now his mouth speaks of wisdom, and his tongue talks judgment, for the law of the Lord is in his heart, Psalm 37:30. Now his lips drop as honey-combs, Cant. 4:1l; now his tongue is a tree of life, whose leaves are medicinal, Prov. 12:18. As the silver trumpets sounded most joy to the Jews in the day of their gladness, so the mouth of a wise man, like a silver trumpet, sounds most joy and advantage to others in the days of his sadness, Num. 10:10.

The heathen man could say—’when a wise man speaks, he opens the rich treasure and the wardrobe of his mind’; so may I say, ‘when an afflicted saint speaks, Oh the pearls, and the treasures that he scatters!’ 

A holy, a prudent silence does not exclude moderate mourning or weeping under the afflicting hand of God. Isaiah 38:3, ‘And Hezekiah wept sore’, or, as the Hebrew has it, ‘wept with great weeping.’ But was not the Lord displeased with him for his great weeping? No! ver. 5, ‘I have heard your prayers, I have seen your tears—behold, I will add unto your days fifteen years.’ God had as well a bottle for his tears—as a bag for his sins, Psalm 56:8. There is no water so sweet as the saints’ tears, when they do not overflow the banks of moderation. Tears are not mutes; they have a voice, and their oratory is of great prevalence with the almighty God. Therefore, the weeping prophet calls out for tears—Lam. 2:18, ‘Let your tears flow like a river day and night; give yourself no relief; let not the apple of your eye cease;’ or, as the Hebrew has it, ‘Let not the daughter of your eye be silent.’ That which we call the pupil or apple of the eye, the Hebrews call the daughter of the eye, because it is as dear and tender to a man as an only daughter; and because therein appears the likeness of a little daughter. Upon which words, says Bellarmine—’cry aloud—not with your tongue—but with your eyes; not with your words—but with your tears; for that is the prayer that makes the most forcible entry into the ears of the great God of heaven.’

When God strikes, he looks that we should tremble; when his hand is lifted high, he looks that our hearts should stoop low; when he has the rod in his hand, he looks that we should have tears in our eyes, as you may see by comparing of these Scriptures together, Psalm 55:2, 38:6, Job 30:26-32. Says the Greek poet—’the better any are—they are more inclining to weeping, especially under affliction.’ As you may see in David, whose tears, instead of gems, were the common ornaments of his bed; as Jonathan, Job, Ezra, Daniel, etc. How, says one, shall God wipe away my tears in heaven, if I shed none on earth? And how shall I reap in joy, if I sow not in tears? I was born with tears, and I shall die with tears—and why then should I live without them in this valley of tears?

There is as well a time to weep, as there is a time to laugh; and a time to mourn, as well as a time to dance, Eccles. 3:4. The mourning garment among the Jews was the black garment, and the black garment was the mourning garment—Psalm 43:2, ‘Why do you go mourning?’ The Hebrew word signifies ‘black’. Why go you in black? Sometimes Christians must put off their gay ornaments, and put on their black—their mourning garments, Exod. 33:3-6. But,

A gracious, a prudent silence does not exclude sighing, groaning, or roaring under afflictions. A man may sigh, and groan and roar under the hand of God, and yet be silent. It is not sighing—but muttering; it is not groaning—but grumbling; it is not roaring—but murmuring—which is opposite to a holy silence—Exod. 2:23, ‘And the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage.’ Job 3:24, ‘For my sighing comes before I eat.’ His sighing, like bad weather, came unsent for and unsought—so Psalm 38:9, ‘Lord, all my desire is before you; and no groaning is not hid from you.’ Psalm 102:5, ‘By reason of the voice of my groaning, my bones cleave to my skin.’ Job 3:24, ‘And my roarings are poured out like the waters.’ Psalm 38:8, ‘I am feeble and sore broken; I have roared by reason of the disturbance of my heart.’ Psalm 22:1, ‘My, God! my God! why have you forsaken me? why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my roaring?’ Psalm 32:3, ‘When I kept silence, my bones waxed old, through my roarings all the day long.’ He roars—but does not rage; he roars—but does not repine.

When a man is in extremity, nature prompts him to roar, and the law of grace is not against it. And though sighing, roaring, groaning, cannot deliver a man out of his misery, yet they do give some ease to a man under his misery. When Solon wept for his son’s death, one said to him, Weeping will not help. He answered, ‘Alas! I weep, because weeping will not help.’ So a Christian many times sighs, because sighing will not help; and he groans, because groaning will not help; and he roars, because roaring will not help. Sometimes the sorrows of the saints are so great, that all tears are dried up, and they can get no ease by weeping; and therefore for a little ease they fall a-sighing and a-groaning. And this may be done, and yet the heart may be quiet and silent before the Lord. Peter wept and sobbed, and yet was silent. Sometimes the sighs and groans of a saint do in some manner, tell that which his tongue can in no manner utter. But,

A holy, a prudent silence, does not exclude nor shut out the use of any just or lawful means, whereby people may be delivered out of their afflictions. God would not have his people so in love with their afflictions, as not to use such righteous means as may deliver them out of their afflictions. Mat. 10:23, ‘But when they persecute you in this city, flee into another.’ Acts 12:5, When Peter was in prison, the saints thronged together to pray, as the original has it, and they were so instant and earnest with God in prayer, they did so beseech and besiege the Lord, they did so beg and bounce at heaven-gate, that God could have no rest, until, by many miracles of power and mercy, he had returned Peter as a bosom-favor to them. “After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him—but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.” Acts 9:23-25

The blood of the saints is precious in God’s eye, and it should not be vile in their own eyes. When providence opens a door of escape, there is no reason why the saints should set themselves as marks for their enemies to shoot at. 2 Thess. 3:1, 2, The apostles desired the brethren ‘to pray for them, that they may be delivered from absurd and wicked men; for all men have not faith.’ It is a mercy worth a seeking, to be delivered out of the hands of wicked, villainous, and troublesome men.

Afflictions are evil in themselves, and we may desire and endeavor to be delivered from them, James 5:14, 15, Isaiah 38:18-21. Both inward and outward means are to be used for our own preservation. Had not Noah built an ark, he would have been swept away with the flood, though he had been with Nimrod and his gang on the tower of Babel, which was raised to the height of some 2000 feet. Though we may not trust in means; yet we may and ought to use the means. In the use of them, eye that God that can only bless them, and you do your work. As the pilot that guides the ship has his hand upon the rudder, and his eye on the star that directs him at the same time; so when your hand is upon the means, let your eye be upon your God, and deliverance will come. We may neglect God as well by neglecting of means, as by trusting in means. It is best to use them, and in the use of them, to live above them. Augustine tells of a man, that being fallen into a pit, one passing by falls to questioning of him, as to how he got into the pit. Oh! said the poor man, ask me not how I came in—but help me and tell me how I may come out! The application is easy.

But, a holy, a prudent silence, does not exclude a just and sober complaining against the authors, contrivers, abettors, or instruments of our afflictions. 2 Tim. 4:14, ‘Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.’ This Alexander is conceived by some to be that Alexander that is mentioned, Acts 19:33, who stood so close to Paul at Ephesus, that he ran the hazard of losing his life by appearing on his side. Yet if glorious professors come to be furious persecutors, Christians may complain—2 Cor. 11:24, ‘Five different times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes.’ They inflict, says Maimonides, no more than forty stripes, though he be as strong as Samson—but if he be weak, they abate of that number. They scourged Paul with the greatest severity, in making him suffer so often the utmost extremity of the Jewish law, when as those who were weak had their punishment mitigated—ver. 25, ‘Thrice was I beaten with rods,’ that is, by the Romans, whose custom it was to beat the guilty with rods.

If Pharaoh makes Israel groan—Israel may make his complaint against Pharaoh to the Keeper of Israel, Exod. 2. If the proud and blasphemous king of Assyria shall come with his mighty army to destroy the people of the Lord—Hezekiah may spread his letter of blasphemy before the Lord. Isaiah 37:14-21. It was the saying of Socrates, that every man in this life had need of a faithful friend and a bitter enemy; the one to advise him, and the other to make him look about him; and this Hezekiah found by experience.

Though Joseph’s bow abode in strength, and the arm of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob. Yet Joseph may say, that the archers, (or the arrow-masters, as the Hebrew has it,) have severely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him. Gen. 49:23, 24. And so David sadly complained of Doeg. Yes, Christ himself, who was the most perfect pattern for silence under sorest trials, complains against Judas, Pilate, and the rest of his persecutors, Psalm 69:20, 30, etc. Yes, though God will make his people’s enemies to be the workmen that shall fit them and square them for his building; to be goldsmiths to add pearls to their crown; to be rods to beat off their dust; to be scullions to scour off their rust; to be fire to purge away their dross; and water to cleanse away their filthiness, fleshliness, and earthliness; yet may they point at them, and pour out their complaints to God against them, Psalm 132:2-18. This truth I might make good by over a hundred texts of Scripture; but it is time to come to the reasons of the point.