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.
What does a prudent, a gracious, a holy silence include? It includes and takes in these eight things:
First, It includes a sight of God, and an acknowledgment of God as the author of all the afflictions which come upon us. And this you have plain in the text—’I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for You are the one who has done this!’ The psalmist looks through secondary causes to the first cause, and so sits mute before the Lord. There is no sickness so little—but God has a finger in it; though it be but the aching of the little finger. So the Lord, who is the chief agent and mover in all actions, and who has the greatest hand in all our afflictions, is more to be eyed and owned than any inferior or subordinate causes whatever.
So Job, he beheld God in all—Job 1:21, ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.’ Had he not seen God in the affliction, he would have cried out—Oh these wretched Chaldeans, they have plundered and spoiled me; these wicked Sabeans, they have robbed and wronged me! Job discerns God’s commission in the Chaldeans’ and the Sabeans’ hands, and then lays his own hand upon his mouth. So Aaron, beholding the hand of God in the untimely death of his two sons, holds his peace, Lev. 10:3. The sight of God in this sad stroke is a bridle both to his mind and mouth, he neither mutters nor murmurs. So Joseph saw the hand of God in his brethren’s selling of him into Egypt, Gen. 14:8, and that silences him.
Men who don’t see God in an affliction, are easily cast into a feverish fit, they will quickly be in a flame, and when their passions are up, and their hearts on fire, they will begin to be saucy, and make no bones of telling God to his teeth, that they do well to be angry, Jonah 4:8, 9. Such as will not acknowledge God to be the author of all their afflictions, will be ready enough to fall in with that mad principle of the Manichees, who maintained the devil to be the author of all calamities; as if there could be any evil of affliction in the city, and the Lord have no hand in it, Amos 3:6. Such as can see the ordering hand of God in all their afflictions, will, with David, lay their hands upon their mouths, when the rod of God is upon their backs, 2 Sam. 16:11, 12. If God’s hand be not seen in the affliction, the heart will do nothing but fret and rage under affliction.
Secondly, It includes and takes in some holy, gracious apprehensions of the majesty, sovereignty, authority, and presence of that God under whose acting hand we are—Habakkuk 2:20, ‘But the Lord is in his holy temple—let all the earth be silent’, or as the Hebrew reads it, ‘Be silent, all the earth, before his face.’ When God would have all the people of the earth to be hushed, quiet, and silent before him, he would have them to behold him in his temple, where he sits in state, in majesty, and glory—Zeph. 1, ‘Hold your peace at the presence of the Lord God.’ Chat not, murmur not, repine not, quarrel not; stand mute, be silent, lay your hand on your mouth, when his hand is upon your back, who is all eye to see, as well as all hand to punish. As the eyes of a well-drawn picture are fastened on you which way soever you turn, so are the eyes of the Lord; and therefore you have cause to stand mute before him.
Thus Aaron had an eye to the sovereignty of God, and that silences him. And Job had an eye upon the majesty of God, and that stills him. And Eli had an eye upon the authority and presence of God, and that quiets him. A man never comes to humble himself, nor to be silent under the hand of God, until he comes to see the hand of God to be a mighty hand—1 Pet. 5:6, ‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God.’ When men look upon the hand of God as a weak hand, a feeble hand, a low hand, a mean hand—their hearts rise against his hand. ‘ Who is the Lord,’ says Pharaoh, ‘that I should obey his voice?’ Exod. 5:2. And until Pharaoh came to see the hand of God, as a mighty hand, and to feel it as a mighty hand, he would not let Israel go.
When Tiribazus, a noble Persian, was arrested, at first he drew out his sword and defended himself; but when they charged him in the king’s name, and informed him that they came from the king, and were commanded to bring him to the king, he yielded willingly. So when afflictions arrest us, we shall murmur and grumble, and struggle, and strive even to the death, before we shall yield to that God that strikes, until we come to see his majesty and authority, until we come to see him as the king of kings, and Lord of lords, Isaiah 26:11, 12. It is such a sight of God as this, that makes the heart to stoop under his almighty hand, Rev. 1:5. The Thracians being ignorant of the dignity and majesty of God; when it thundered and lightened, used to express their madness and folly in shooting their arrows against heaven! As a sight of his grace cheers the soul, so a sight of his greatness and glory silences the soul.
Thirdly, A gracious, a prudent silence, takes in a holy quietness and calmness of mind and spirit, under the afflicting hand of God. A gracious silence shuts out all inward heats, murmurings, frettings, quarrelings, wranglings, and boilings of heart—Psalm 62:1, ‘Truly my soul keeps silence unto God, or is silent or still;’ that is, my soul is quiet and submissive to God; all murmurings and repinings, passions and turbulent affections, being allayed, tamed, and subdued. This also is clear in the text; and in the former instances of Aaron, Eli, and Job. They saw that it was a Father that put those bitter cups in their hands, and love that laid those heavy crosses upon their shoulders, and grace that put those yokes about their necks; and this caused much quietness and calmness in their spirits.
Marius bit in his pain when the surgeon cut off his leg. Some men, when God cuts off this mercy and that mercy from them, they bite in their pain—they hide and conceal their grief and trouble; but could you but look into their hearts, you will find all in an uproar, all out of order, all in a flame; and however they may seem to be cold without, yet they are all in a hot burning fever within. Such a feverish fit David was once in, Psalm 39:3. But certainly a holy silence allays all tumults in the mind, and makes a man ‘in patience to possess his own soul,’ which, next to his possession of God, is the choicest and sweetest possession in all the world, Luke 21:19.
The law of silence is as well upon that man’s heart and mind as it is upon his tongue, who is truly and divinely silent under the rebuking hand of God. As tongue-service abstracted from heart-service, is no service in the account of God; so tongue-silence abstracted from heart-silence, is no silence in the esteem of God. A man is then graciously silent when all is quiet within and without, Isa 29:13, Mat. 15:8, 9.
Terpander, a harpist and a poet, was one that, by the sweetness of his verse and music, could allay the tumultuous motions of men’s minds, as David by his harp did Saul’s. When God’s people are under the rod, he makes by his Spirit and word such sweet music in their souls as allays all tumultuous motions, passions, and perturbations, Psalm 94:17-19, Psalm 119:49, 50, so that they sit, Noah-like, quiet and still; and in peace possess their own souls.
Fourthly, A prudent, a holy silence, takes in an humble, justifying, clearing and acquitting of God of all blame, rigor and injustice, in all the afflictions he brings upon us; Psalm 51:4, ‘That you may be justified when you speak, and be clear when you judge,’ that is, when you correct. God’s judging his people is God’s correcting or chastening of his people—1 Cor. 11:32, ‘When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord.’ David’s great care, when he was under the afflicting hand of God, was to clear the Lord of injustice. ‘Ah! Lord, says he, there is not the least show, spot, stain, blemish, or mixture of injustice, in all the afflictions you have brought upon me; I desire to take shame to myself, and to set to my seal, that the Lord is righteous, and that there is no injustice, no cruelty, nor no extremity in all that the Lord has brought upon me.’ And so in that Psalm 119:75, 137, he sweetly and readily subscribes unto the righteousness of God in those sharp and smart afflictions which God exercised him with. ‘I know, O Lord, that your judgments are right, and that you in faithfulness have afflicted me. Righteous are you, O Lord, and righteous are your judgments.’
God’s afflictions are always just; he never afflicts but in faithfulness. His will is the rule of justice; and therefore a gracious soul dares not cavil nor question his proceedings. The afflicted soul knows that a righteous God can do nothing but that which is righteous; it knows that God is uncontrollable, and therefore the afflicted man puts his mouth in the dust, and keeps silence before him. Who dare say, ‘Why have You done so?’ 2 Sam. 16:10.
The Turks, when they are cruelly lashed, are compelled to return to the judge who commanded it, to kiss his hand, give him thanks, and pay the officer who whipped them—and so clear the judge and officer of injustice. Silently to kiss the rod, and the hand that whips with it—is the noblest way of clearing the Lord of all injustice.
The Babylonish captivity was the sorest, the heaviest affliction that ever God inflicted upon any people under heaven; witness that 1 Sam. 12:and Dan. 9:12, etc. Yet under those great afflictions, wisdom is justified of her children—Neh. 9:33, ‘You are just in all that is brought upon us, for you have done right—but we have done wickedly!’ Lam. 1:18, ‘The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled against him.’ A holy silence shines in nothing more than in an humble justifying and clearing of God from all that which a corrupt heart is apt enough to charge God with, in the day of affliction. God, in that he is good, can give nothing, nor do nothing—but that which is good. “Others do evil frequently; God can never do evil,” says Luther.
Fifthly, A holy silence takes in gracious, blessed, soul-quieting conclusions about the outcome of those afflictions which are upon us. “It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” Lamentations 3:27-33. In this choice scripture you may observe these FIVE SOUL-STILLING CONCLUSIONS.
(1.) First, and that more generally, That afflictions shall work for their good ver. 27, ‘It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.’ A gracious soul secretly concludes—as stars shine brightest in the night, so God will make my soul shine and glisten like gold, while I am in this furnace, and when I come out of the furnace of affliction—Job 23:10, ‘He knows the way that I take; and when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold!’ ‘It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.’ Psalm 119:71.
Surely, as the tasting of honey did open Jonathan’s eyes, so this cross, this affliction, shall open my eyes. By this stroke I shall come to have a clearer sight of my sins and of myself, and a fuller sight of my God, Job 33:27, 28; 40:4, 5; 13:1-7.
Surely this affliction shall proceed in the purging away of my dross, Isaiah 1:25.
Surely as ploughing of the ground kills the weeds, and harrowing breaks hard clods; so these afflictions shall kill my sins, and soften my heart, Hosea 5:15, 6:1-3.
Surely as the plaster draws out the infectious core; so the afflictions which are upon me shall draw out the core of pride, the core of self-love, the core of envy, the core of earthliness, the core of formality, the core of hypocrisy, Psalm 119:67, 71.
Surely by these afflictions, the Lord will crucify my heart more and more to the world, and the world to my heart, Gal. 6:14; Psalm 131:1-3.
Surely by these afflictions, the Lord will keep pride from my soul, Job 33:14-21.
Surely these afflictions are but the Lord’s pruning-knives, by which he will bleed my sins, and prune my heart, and make it more fertile and fruitful; they are but the Lord’s portion, by which he will clear me, and rid me of those spiritual diseases and maladies, which are most deadly and dangerous to my soul!
Affliction is such a potion, as will carry away all soul-diseases, better than all other remedies, Zech. 13:8, 9.
Surely these shall increase my spiritual experiences, Rom. 5:3, 4.
Surely by these I shall be made more partaker of God’s holiness, Heb. 12:10. As black soap makes white clothes, so does sharp afflictions make holy hearts.
Surely by these God will communicate more of himself unto me, Hosea 2:14.
Surely by these afflictions, the Lord will draw out my heart more and more to seek him, Isaiah 36:16. Tatianus told the heathen Greeks, that when they were sick, then they would send for their gods to be with them, as Aganmemnon did at the siege of Troy, send for his ten counselors. Hosea 5:15, ‘In their afflictions they will seek me early,’ or as the Hebrew has it, ‘they will morning me;’ in times of affliction, Christians will industriously, speedily, early seek unto the Lord.
Surely by these trials and troubles, the Lord will fix my soul more than ever upon the great concernments of the eternal world, John 14:1-3; Rom. 8:17, 18; 2 Cor. 4:16-18.
Surely by these afflictions the Lord will work in me more tenderness and compassion towards those who are afflicted, Heb. 10:34, 13:3. The Romans punished one that was seen looking out at his window with a crown of roses on his head, in a time of public calamity.
Surely these afflictions are but God’s love-tokens. Rev. 3:19, ‘As many as I love—I rebuke and chasten.’ Seneca persuaded his friend Polybius to bear his affliction quietly, because he was the emperor’s favorite, telling him, that it was not lawful for him to complain while Caesar was his friend. So says the holy Christian—’O my soul! be quiet, be still; all is sent in love, all is a fruit of divine favor. I see honey upon the top of every twig, I see the rod is but a rosemary branch, I have sugar with my gall, and wine with my wormwood; therefore be silent, O my soul!’ And this general conclusion, that all should be for good, had this blessed eject upon the church—Lam. 3:28, ‘He sits alone, and keeps silence, because he has borne it upon him.’
Afflictions abase the carnal attractions of the world, which might entice us. Affliction abates the lustiness of the flesh within, which might else ensnare us! And it abates the spirit in its quarrel against the flesh and the world; by all which it proves a mighty advantage unto us.
(2.) Secondly, Afflictions shall keep them humble and low—Lam. 3:29, ‘He puts his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope.’ Some say, that these words are an allusion to the manner of those that, having been conquered and subdued, lay their necks down at the conqueror’s feet to be trampled upon, and so lick up the dust that is under the conqueror’s feet. Others looked upon the words as an allusion to poor petitioners, who cast themselves down at princes’ feet, that they may draw forth their pity and compassion towards them. As I have read of Aristippus, who fell on the ground before Dionysius, and kissed his feet, when he presented a petition to him; and being asked the reason, answered—he has his ears in his feet. Take it which way you will, it holds forth this to us, That holy hearts will be humble under the afflicting hand of God. When God’s rod is upon their backs, their mouths shall be in the dust. A good heart will lie lowest, when the hand of God is lifted highest, Job 13:1-7; Acts 9:1-8.
(3.) Thirdly, The third soul-quieting conclusion you have in Lam. 3:31, ‘For the Lord will not cast off forever;’ the rod shall not always lie upon the back of the righteous. ‘In the evening—sudden terror! Before morning—it is gone!’ Isaiah 17:13. As Athanasius said to his friends, when they came to bewail his misery and banishment—’it is but a little cloud—and it will quickly be gone.’ There are none of God’s afflicted ones, that have not their intermissions and respites; yes, so small a while does the hand of the Lord rest upon his people, that Luther cannot get diminutives enough to extenuate it; for he calls it a very little little cross that we bear—Isaiah 26:20, ‘Come, my people, enter into your chambers, and shut your doors behind you—hide yourself as it were for a little moment (or for a little space, a little while), until the indignation is over-pass.’ The indignation does not pass—but over-pass. The sharpness, shortness, and suddenness of the saints’ afflictions, is set forth by the travail of a woman, John 16:21, which is sharp, short, and sudden.
4.) Fourthly, The fourth soul-silencing conclusion you have in Lamentations 3:32 ‘But though he causes grief, yet will he have compassion, according to the multitude of his mercies.‘ ‘In wrath God remembers mercy,’ Hab. 3:2. ‘Weeping may endure for a night—but joy comes in the morning,’ Psalm 30:5. Their mourning shall last but until morning. God will turn their winter’s night into a summer’s day, their sighing into singing, their grief into gladness, their mourning into music, their bitter into sweet, their wilderness into a paradise. The life of a Christian is filled up with interchanges of sickness and health, weakness and strength, want and wealth, disgrace and honor, crosses and comforts, miseries and mercies, joys and sorrows, mirth and mourning. All honey would harm us; all wormwood would undo us—a composition of both is the best way in the world to keep our souls in a healthy constitution. It is best and most for the health of the soul that the warm south wind of mercy, and the cold north wind of adversity—do both blow upon it. And though every wind that blows, shall blow good to the saints, yet certainly their sins die most, and their graces thrive best, when they are under the frigid, drying, nipping north wind of calamity, as well as under the warm, nourishing south wind of mercy and prosperity.
(5) Fifthly, The fifth soul-quieting conclusion you have in Lament. 3:33, ‘For He does not afflict willingly (or as the Hebrew has it, ‘from his heart’), ‘nor grieve the children of men.’ Christians conclude that God’s heart was not in their afflictions, though his hand was. He takes no delight to afflict his children; it goes against his heart. It is a grief to him to be grievous to them, a pain to him to be punishing of them, a sorrow to him to be striking them. He has no will, no desire, no inclination, no disposition, to that work of afflicting of his people; and therefore he calls it ‘his strange work,’ Isaiah 28:21. Mercy and punishment—they flow from God, as the honey and the sting from the bee. The bee yields honey of her own nature—but she does not sting but when she is provoked. God takes delight in showing of mercy, Micah 7:18; he takes no pleasure in giving his people up to adversity, Hosea 11:8. Mercy and kindness flows from him freely, naturally; he is never severe, never harsh; he never stings, he never terrifies us—but when he is sadly provoked by us. God’s hand sometimes may lie very hard upon his people, when his heart, his affections, at those very times may be yearning towards his people, Jer. 31:18-20.
No man can tell how the heart of God stands—by his hand. God’s hand of mercy may be open to those against whom his heart is set—as you see in the rich poor fool, in the Gospel. And his hand of severity may lie hard upon those on whom he has set his heart—as you may see in Job and Lazarus. And thus you see those gracious, blessed, soul-quieting conclusions about afflictions, that a holy, a prudent silence does include.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Psalms 37:7
Sixthly, A holy, a prudent silence includes and takes in a strict charge, a solemn, command, that conscience lays upon the soul to be quiet and still. Psalm 37:7, ‘Rest in the Lord, (or as the Hebrew has it, ‘be silent to the Lord’), ‘and wait patiently for him.’ I charge you, O my soul—not to mutter, nor to murmur; I command you, O my soul, to be dumb and silent under the afflicting hand of God. As Christ laid a charge, a command, upon the boisterous winds and the roaring raging seas—Mat. 8:26, ‘Be still; and there was a great calm,’—so conscience lays a charge upon the soul to be quiet and still—Psalm 27:14, ‘Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart—wait, I say, on the Lord.’ Peace, O my soul! be still, leave your muttering, leave your murmuring, leave your complaining, leave your chafing, and vexing—and lay your hand upon your mouth, and be silent. Conscience allays and stills all the tumults and uproars that are in the soul, by such like reasonings as the clerk of Ephesus stilled that uproar—Acts 19:40, ‘For we are in danger to be called in question for this day’s uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse.’ O my soul! be quiet, be silent, else you will one day be called in question for all those inward mutterings, uproars, and passions that are in you, seeing no sufficient cause can be produced why you should murmur, quarrel, or wrangle—under the righteous hand of God.
Seventhly, A holy, a prudent silence includes a surrendering, a resigning of ourselves to God, while we are under his afflicting hand. The silent soul gives himself up to God. The secret language of the soul is this—’Lord, here am I; do with me what you please, write upon me as you please—I give up myself to be at your disposal.’
There was a good woman, who, when she was sick, being asked whether she were willing to live or die, answered, ‘Whichever God pleases.’ But, said one that stood by, ‘If God would refer it to you, which would you choose?’ ‘Truly,’ said she, ‘if God would refer it to me, I would even refer it right back to him again.’ This was a soul worth gold.
‘Well,’ says a gracious soul, ‘The ambitious man gives himself up to his honors—but I give up myself unto God. The voluptuous man gives himself up to his pleasures—but I give up myself to God. The covetous man gives himself up to his bags of money—but I give up myself to God. The wanton man gives himself up to his lust—but I give up myself to God. The drunkard gives himself up to his cups—but I give up myself to God. The papist gives up himself to his idols—but I give myself to God. The Turk gives up himself to his Mahomet—but I give up myself to God. The heretic gives up himself to his heretical opinions—but I give up myself to God. Lord! lay what burden you will upon me, only let your everlasting arms be under me!
Lord! lay what burden you will upon me, only let your everlasting arms be under me. Strike, Lord, strike, and spare not, for I am lain down in your will, I have learned to say amen to your amen; you have a greater interest in me than I have in myself, and therefore I give up myself unto you, and am willing to be at your disposal, and am ready to receive whatever impression you shall stamp upon me. O blessed Lord! have you not again and again said unto me, as once the king of Israel said to the king of Syria, ‘I am yours, and all that I have is yours,’ 1 Kings 20:4.
God says, “I am yours, O soul! to save you! My mercy is yours to pardon you! My blood is yours to cleanse you! My merits are yours to justify you! My righteousness is yours to clothe you! My Spirit is yours to lead you! My grace is yours to enrich you! My glory is yours to reward you!” And therefore, says a gracious soul, “I cannot but make a resignation of myself unto you. Lord! here I am, do with me as seems good in your own eyes. I know the best way to have my own will, is to resign up myself to your will, and to say amen to your amen.”
I have read of a gentleman, who, meeting with a shepherd in a misty morning, asked him what weather it would be? ‘It will be,’ says the shepherd, ‘that weather which pleases me.’ And being courteously requested to express his meaning, replied, ‘Sir, it shall be whatever weather pleases God; and whatever weather pleases God—pleases me.’ When a Christian’s will is molded into the will of God, he is sure to have his will.
Eighthly and lastly, A holy, a prudent silence, takes in a patient waiting upon the Lord under our afflictions until deliverance comes—Psalm 11:1-3; Psalm 62:5, ‘My soul, wait only upon God, for my expectation is from him;’ Lam. 3:26, ‘It is good that a man should both hope, and quietly (or as the Hebrew has it, ‘silently’) wait for the salvation of the Lord.’ The farmer patiently waits for the precious fruits of the earth, the mariner patiently waits for wind and tide, the watchman patiently waits for the dawning of the day; and so does the silent soul in the night of adversity, patiently wait for the dawning of the day of mercy, James 5:7, 8. The mercies of God are not described as being swift—but the sure mercies; and therefore a gracious soul waits patiently for them. And thus you see what a gracious, a prudent silence does include.