Graciously Prepared for Suffering
The following excerpt is the ‘Epistle to the Reader’ and Chapter 1 of John Flavel’s Preparations for Sufferings, or, The Best Work in the Worst Times.
The Epistle to the Reader
It was the observation of the learned Gerson (when the world was not so old by many years as now it is) that mundus senescens patitur phantasias [‘As the world grows old, it suffers illusions.’]: The aged world, like aged persons, dotes and grows whimsical, in its old age; the truth of which observation is confirmed by no one thing more, than the fond and groundless dreams and phantasms of tranquillity, and continuing prosperity, wherewith the multitude please themselves, even whilst the sins of the times are so great, and the signs of the times so sad and lowring as they are.
It is not the design of this Manual to scare and affright any man with imaginary dangers, much less to sow jealousies, and foment the discontents of the times; it being a just matter of lamentation that all the tokens of God’s anger produce with many of us no better fruit but bold censures and loud clamours, instead of humiliation for our own sins, and the due preparation to take up our own cross, and follow Christ in a suffering path, which is the only mark and aim of this tract.
We read the histories of the primitive sufferers, but not with a spirit prepared to follow them. Some censure them as too prodigal of their blood, and others commend their courage and constancy; but where are they that sincerely resolve and prepare to be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises? Heb. 6:12, or take them for an ‘example of suffering, affliction, and of patience,’ James 5:10.
It is as much our interest as it is our duty to be seasonably awakened out of our pleasant but most pernicious drowsiness. Troubles will be so much the more sinking and intolerable, by how much the more they steal upon us by way of surprizal. For look, as expectation deflowers any temporal comfort, by sucking out much of the sweetness thereof beforehand, and so we find the less in it when we come to the actual enjoyment: So the expectation of evils abates much of the dread and terror, by accustoming our thoughts beforehand to them, and making preparation for them: So that we find them not so grievous, amazing, and intolerable when they are come indeed.
This was exemplified to us very lively by holy Mr Bradford the martyr, when the keeper’s wife came running into his chamber, saying, ‘O Mr Bradford, I bring you heavy tidings, for tomorrow you must be burned, your chain is now buying, and presently you must go to Newgate.’ He put off his hat, and looking up to heaven, said, ‘O Lord, I thank thee for it; I have looked for this a long time; It comes not suddenly to me, the Lord make me worthy of it.’ See in this example the singular advantage of a prepared and ready soul.
Reader, The cup of sufferings is a very bitter cup, and it is but needful that we provide somewhat to sweeten it, that we may be able to receive it with thanksgiving; and what those sweetening ingredients are, and how to prepare them, you will have some direction and help in the following discourse; which hath once already been presented to the public view; and that it may at this time also (wherein nothing can be more seasonable) become farther useful and assisting to the people of God in their present duties, is the hearty desire of
Thine and the Church’s Servant in Christ,
Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep, and to break my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. – Acts 21:13.
Wherein the text is opened, and the doctrine propounded.
The Divine providence is not more signally discovered in governing the motions of the clouds, than it is in disposing and ordering the spirits and motions of the ministers of the gospel, who, in a mystical sense, are fruitful clouds, to dispense the showers of gospel blessings to the world. The motion of the clouds is not spontaneous, but they move as they are moved by the winds; neither can gospel ministers choose their own stations, and govern their own motions, but must go when and where the Spirit and providence of God directs and guides them; as will evidently appear in that dangerous voyage to Jerusalem in which the apostle was at this time engaged, Acts 20:22. ‘And now, behold, I go bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem’ [bound in the Spirit]: Alluding to the watery vapours which are bound up in clouds, and conveyed according to the motions of the wind. This journey was full of danger; Paul foresaw his business was not only to plant the gospel at Jerusalem with his doctrine, but to water it also with his blood; but so effectually was his will determined by the will of God, that he cheerfully complies with his duty therein, whatsoever difficulties and dangers did attend it.
And indeed it was his great advantage, that the will of God was so plainly and convincingly revealed to him touching this matter; for no sooner did he employ himself to obey this call of God, but he is presently assaulted by many strong temptations to decline it.
The first rub he met in his way was from the disciples of Tyre, who pretending to speak by the Spirit, said unto Paul, that he should not go up to Jerusalem, Acts 21:4. The Lord by this trying the spirit of his apostle much, as he did the young prophet coming from Judea to Bethel, 1 Kings 13:18, but not with like success. His next discouragement was at Caesarea, where Agabus (whom Dorotheus affirms to be of the seventy-two disciples, and had before prophesied of the famine in the reign of Claudius, which accordingly came to pass) takes Paul’s girdle, and binding his own hands and feet with it, said, ‘Thus saith the Holy Ghost, so shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles,’ Acts 21:11. And surely he was not ignorant what he must expect whenever he should fall into their hands; yet neither could this affright him from his duty. But then, last of all, he meeteth with the sorest trial from his dearest friends, who fell upon him with passionate entreaties and many tears, beseeching him to decline that journey: O they could not give up such a minister as Paul was! this even melted him down, and almost broke his heart, which yet was easier to do, than to turn him out of the path of obedience: Where, by the way, we may note two things:
First, That divine precept, not providence, is to rule out our way of duty.
Secondly, That no hindrances or discouragements whatsoever will justify our neglect of a known duty.
All these rubs he passes over; all these discouragements he overcame, with this heroic and truly Christian resolution in the text; ‘What mean ye to weep, and to break my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord Jesus.’
In which words we have,
1. A loving and gentle rebuke.
2. A quieting and calming argument.
First, He lovingly and gently rebukes their fond and inordinate sorrow for his departure, in these words, What mean ye to weep, and to break my heart? As if he should say, What mean these passionate entreaties and tempting tears? To what purpose is all this ado? They are but so many snares of Satan, to turn my heart out of the way of obedience: You do as much as in you lies to break my heart; let there be no more of this I beseech you.
Secondly, He labours to charm their unruly passions with a very quieting and calming argument; For I am ready, etc. ἑτοίμως ἔχω [hetoimos echo], parate habeo. I am prepared and fitted for the greatest sufferings which shall befall me in the pursuit of my duty; be it a prison, or be it death, I am provided for either: Liberty is dear, and life much dearer, but Christ is dearer than either.
But what was there in all this, to satisfy them whose trouble it was to see him so forward? Let the words be considered, and we shall find divers things in them to satisfy and quiet their hearts, and make them willing to give him up.
First, I am ready; that is, God hath fitted and prepared my heart for the greatest sufferings; this is the work of God: flesh and blood would never be brought to this, were not all its interests and inclinations subdued, and overruled by the Spirit of God. What do ye therefore in all this, but work against the design of God, who hath fitted and prepared my heart for this service?
Secondly, I am ready; that is, my will and resolution stands in a full bent, my heart is fixed, you cannot therefore study to do me a greater injury, than to discompose and disorder my heart again, by casting such temptations as these in my way, to cause the flesh to rebel, and the enemy that is within to renew his opposition.
Thirdly, I am ready; that is, my heart is so fixed to follow the call of God, whatever shall befall me, that all your tears and entreaties to the contrary are but cast away; they cannot alter my fixed purpose; you had as good be quiet, and cheerfully resign me to the will of God.
Thus you see the equipage and preparation of Paul’s spirit to receive both bonds and death for Christ at Jerusalem; this made him victorious over the temptations of friends, and the malice and cruelty of his enemies: By this readiness and preparation of his mind, he was carried through all, and enabled to finish his course with joy. From hence the observation is,
Doctrine. That it is a blessed and excellent thing for the people of God to be prepared, and ready for the hardest services, and worst of sufferings, to which the Lord may call them.
This is that which every gracious heart is reaching after, praying, and striving to obtain; but, ah! how few will attain it! Certainly there are not many among the multitudes of the professors of this generation that can say as Paul here did, ‘I am ready to be bound, or to die for Christ.’
Preparations for Suffering, Or, The Best Work in the Worst Times, is published by the Banner of Truth in Volume 6 of Flavel’s Works (Set price £85.00) and as a Puritan Paperback (£5.50).
Featured Picture: “The man with the burden”, by Rachael Robinson Elmer (d. 1919) illustration from John Bunyan’s dream story (based on Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress) (p. 18) abridged by James Baldwin (1841-1925). Public Domain.
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