“Dear hearts—The choicest saints are ‘born to troubles as the sparks fly upwards’, Job 5:7. ‘Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivers him out of them all.’ Psalm 34:19. If they were many, and not troubles, then, as it is in the proverb, the more the merrier; or if they were troubles and not many, then the fewer the better. But God, who is infinite in wisdom and matchless in goodness, has ordered troubles, yes, many troubles to come trooping in upon us on every side. As our mercies—so our crosses seldom come single; they usually come treading one upon the heels of another; they are like April showers, no sooner is one over but another comes. And yet, Christians, it is mercy, it is rich mercy, that every affliction is not an execution, that every correction is not a damnation. The higher the waters rise, the nearer Noah’s ark was lifted up to heaven; the more your afflictions are increased, the more your heart shall be raised heavenward.” – Thomas Brooks, The Mute Christian under the Smarting Rod
As I read through the book of Job in my yearly reading plan, one thought kept ringing over and over in my head, namely that Job should be quiet and humbly recognize his inherent sinfulness. I mentioned both of those responses in the last post, but here I’d like to flesh out more of this idea with the help of Puritan Thomas Brooks.
In his book cited above, Brooks pens a masterful treatise on the proper Christian response to suffering, discipline, and general trials that befall us all. Below is a summary of a meaty section on holy silence as a response before God, both what it is and what it isn’t. Even though I’ve summarized, it’s still a little long, but so soul stirring and beneficial. Perhaps the next time you read through Job or are going through challenging experiences, this section may be helpful to you. The entire work is well worth reading and is available online completely free: Grace Gems or .pdf here
“I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for You are the one who has done this!” Psalm 39:9
What is the silence meant, here in this verse?
First, There is a STOICAL silence. The stoics of old thought it altogether below a man that has reason or understanding either to rejoice in any good, or to mourn for any evil; but this stoical silence is such a sinful insensibleness as is very provoking to a holy God, Isaiah 26:10,11.
Second, There is a POLITIC silence. Many are silent out of policy.
Thirdly, There is a FOOLISH silence. Some fools there be that can neither do well nor speak well; and because they cannot word it neither as they would nor as they should, they are so wise as to be mute—Prov. 17:28
Fourthly, There is a SULLEN silence. Many, to gratify an humour, a lust, are sullenly silent; these are troubled with a dumb devil, which was the worst devil of all the devils you read of in the Scripture, Mark 9:17-28.
Fifthly, There is a FORCED silence. Many are silent per force. He who is under the power of his enemy, though he suffers many hard things, yet he is silent under his sufferings, because he knows he is liable to worse.
Sixth, There is a DESPAIRING silence. A despairing soul is a terror to himself; he has a hell in his heart, and horror in his conscience. He looks upwards, and there he beholds God frowning; he looks inwards, and there he finds conscience accusing and condemning of him; he looks on the one side of him, and there he hears all his sins crying out—We are yours, and we will follow you; we will go to the grave with you, we will go to judgment with you, and from judgment we will go to hell with you; he looks on the other side of him, and there he sees infernal fiends in fearful shapes, amazing and terrifying of him, and waiting to receive his despairing soul as soon as she shall take her leave of his wretched body; he looks above him, and there he sees the gates of heaven shut against him; he looks beneath him, and there he sees hell gaping for him; and under these sad sights, he is full of secret conclusions against his own soul.
Seventh, There is a PRUDENT silence, a HOLY, a GRACIOUS silence; a silence that springs from prudent principles, from holy principles, and from gracious causes and considerations; and this is the silence here meant.
What does a prudent, a gracious, a holy silence include?
First, It includes a sight of God, and an acknowledgment of God as the author of all the afflictions which come upon us.
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—Hab 2:20
Thirdly, A gracious, a prudent silence, takes in a holy quietness and calmness of mind and spirit, under the afflicting hand of God.
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
Fifthly, A holy silence takes in gracious, blessed, soul-quieting conclusions about the outcome of those afflictions which are upon us.
First, and that more generally, That afflictions shall work for their good
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 Agamemnon 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.
Secondly, Afflictions shall keep them humble and low—Lam. 3:29
Thirdly, The rod shall not always lie upon the back of the righteous.
Fourthly, 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.
Fifthly, 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.
Sixth, 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
Seventh, A holy, a prudent silence includes a surrendering, a resigning of ourselves to God, while we are under his afflicting hand.
Eighth 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
What does a holy, a prudent silence under affliction not exclude?
First, A holy, a prudent silence under affliction does not exclude and shut out a sense and feeling of our afflictions, Psalm 39:9
Secondly, A holy, a prudent, silence does not shut out prayer for deliverance out of our afflictions.
Thirdly, 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
Fourthly, A holy, a prudent silence does not exclude the teaching and instructing of others, when we are afflicted.
Fifthly, A holy, a prudent silence does not exclude moderate mourning or weeping under the afflicting hand of God. Isaiah 38:3
Sixth, A gracious, a prudent silence does not exclude sighing, groaning, or roaring under afflictions.
Seventh, 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.
Eighth, and lastly, A holy, a prudent silence, does not exclude a just and sober complaining against the authors, contrivers, abettors, or instruments of our afflictions.