“Demonstrating the first proposition, that there are times and seasons appointed by God for the pouring out of his indignation upon the world.
Sect. I. THIS is plainly implied in the text [ed. Isaiah 26:20], that there are times of indignation appointed to befal the world; yea, and more than this; not only that such times shall come, but the duration and continuance is also under an appointment. “Hide thyself for a little moment, until the indignation be over-past.” The prophet tells us in Zeph. ii. 2. that these stormy times are under a decree, and that decree is there compared to a pregnant woman which is to go out her appointed months, and then to travail and bring forth: Even so it is in the judgments God brings upon the world. We see them cot in the days of provocation, sed adhuc foetus in utero latent, but all this while they are in the womb of the decree, and at the appointed season they shall become visible to the world. As there are in nature fair halcyon days, and cloudy, over-cast, and stormy: So it is in providences, Eccl. vii. 14. “God hath set the one over-against the other.” Yea, one is the occasion of the other; for look as the sun in a hot day exhales abundance of vapours from the earth and sea, these occasion showers, thunder, and tempests, and those again clear the air, and dispose it to fair weather again. So it is here, prosperity is the occasion of abundance of sin, this brings on adversity from the justice of God to correct it; adversity being sanctified, humbles, reforms, and purges the people of God, and this again by mercy procures their prosperity: So you find the account stated in Psal. cvii. 17. “Fools because of their iniquities are afflicted, then they cry to the Lord in their troubles, and he saveth them out of their distresses.” And this appointment of times of distress is both profitable and necessary for the world, especially God’s own people in it.
In general, hereby the being and righteousness of God is cleared and vindicated against the atheism and infidelity of the world, Psal. ix. 16. “The Lord is known by the judgments that he executeth.” Impunity is the occasion of many atheistical thoughts in the world, Jer. xlviii. 11. “Moab hath been at ease from his youth; and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity; therefore his taste remaineth in him, and his scent is not changed.” So Psal. lv. 19. “Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.” Kingdoms, families, and particular persons, like standing water and ponds, are apt to corrupt by long continued peace and prosperity; the Lord therefore sees it necessary to purge the world by his judgments; “When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” Those sermons that God preaches from heaven by the terrible voice of his judgments, startle and rouse the secure world, more than all the warnings and exhortations of his ministers could ever do. Those that slept securely under our ministry, will fear and tremble under his rods; those that are without faith, are not without sense and feeling, their own eyes will affect their hearts, though our words could make no impression on them.
Sect. 2. But of what use soever these national judgments are to others, to be sure they shall be beneficial to God’s own people; when others die by fear, they shall live by faith; if they be baneful poison to the wicked, they shall be healthful physic to the godly.
1. By these calamities God will mortify and purge their corruptions; this winter weather shall be useful to destroy and rot those rank weeds, which the summer of prosperity bred, Isa. xxvii. 9. “By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged.” Physic in its own nature is griping and unpleasant, but very useful and necessary to purge the body from noxious and malignant humours, which retained, may put life itself in hazard: And it is with the body politic, as with the body natural.
2. National judgments drive the people of God nearer to him, and to one another; they drive the people of God to their knees, and make them pray more frequently, more fervently, and more feelingly than they ever were wont to do; in this posture you find them in ver. 8, 9. of this chapter. ” Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee, the desire of our souls is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee. With my soul have I desired thee in the night, yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early.”
3. In a word, by these distractions and distresses of nations, the people of God are more weaned from the world, and made to long more vehemently after heaven; being now convinced by experience that this is not their rest. When all things are tranquil and prosperous, God’s own people are but too apt to fall asleep and dream of pleasure and rest on earth, to say as Job in his prosperity, “I shall die in my nest, I shall multiply my days as the sand.” And then are their heads and hearts filled with many projects and designs, to promote their comforts, and make provision for their accommodations on earth: the multiplicity of earthly cares and comforts take up their time and thoughts too much, and make them that they mind death and eternity too little. But saith God, this must not be so, things must not go on at this rate, the prosperous world must not thus enchant my people; I must imbitter the earth that I may thereby sweeten heaven the more to them; when they find no rest below, they will surely seek it above.
These, and such like, are the gracious designs and ends of God in shaking the world by his terrible judgments; but yet, though national troubles must necessarily come, the wisest of men cannot positively determine the precise time of those judgments; we may indeed, by the signs of the times, discern their near approach; yet our judgment can be but probable and conjectural, seeing there are tacit conditions in the dreadfulest threatenings, Jer. xviii. 7, 8. Jonah iii. 9, 10. And such is the merciful nature of God, that he oft-times turns away his anger from his people, when it seems ready to pour down upon them, Psal. lxxviii. 38. The consideration whereof no way indulges security, but encourages to repentance and greater fervency in prayer.”
1. Flavel, John. “The Righteous Man’s Refuge.” The Works of John Flavel, Volume III. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1997, pages 328-330.