The Crook in the Lot
Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight which he hath made crooked? – Eccl. 7:13
I. Introductory Remarks
He begins the work with the general proposition that we will not never properly respond to difficulties in this life if we do not begin with the understanding that God is sovereign, and that our present difficulty is actually a “work of God.” This will come quite a surprising assertion to many people, but it is at the heart of Boston’s counsel in this book.
The “crook in the lot” means the difficulty in your present “lot”, your circumstance or condition.
A. Proof of the Point
Before we look at his work, we will just note a few examples of this proposition found in the Scripture:
Isaiah 45:5–7 (ESV)
5 I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.
1 Samuel 2:6–8 (ESV)
6 The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
8 He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.
B. The Introductory Paragraph:
A just view of afflicting incidents is altogether necessary to a Christian deportment under them: and that view is to be obtained only by faith, not by sense. For it is the light of the word alone that represents them justly, discovering in them the work of God, and consequently designs becoming the divine perfections. These perceived by the eye of faith, and duly considered, one has a just view of afflicting incidents, fitted to quell the turbulent motions of corrupt affections under dismal outward appearances.
C. Context for Eccl. 7:13
Boston begins by noting that Ecclesiastes 7 contains a series of seemingly contradictory or paradoxical statements. He assumes a knowledge of the text, which reads as follows:
Ecclesiastes 7:1–11 (ESV)
Birth is better than death:
A good name is better than precious ointment,
and the day of death than the day of birth.
Mourning is better than feasting:
2 It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter:
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
Rebuke is better than singing and laughter:
5 It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
than to hear the song of fools.
6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
so is the laughter of the fools;
this also is vanity.
Solomon then raises a problem:
Ecclesiastes 7:7–10 (ESV)
7 Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,
and a bribe corrupts the heart.
8 Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
9 Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
Solomon then proposes a general solution:
Ecclesiastes 7:11–12 (ESV)
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
an advantage to those who see the sun.
12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
And then a “particular” solution, which is the basis for Boston’s work:
Ecclesiastes 7:13 (ESV)
13 Consider the work of God:
who can make straight what he has made crooked?
D. How is this a “solution” to the trouble of life:
It is not immediately clear how seeing that a difficulty is a work of God and will not be removed is any sort of a “solution” to the trouble of life. But it is precisely here that Boston finds help:
In which words are proposed, (1.) The remedy itself, (2.) The suitableness thereof. First, The remedy itself is a wise eying the hand of God in all we find to bear hard upon us: Consider the work (or, See thou the doing) of God, to wit, in the crooked, rough, and disagreeable parts of thy lot, the crosses thou findest in it.
1. The remedy is a matter of seeing a thing rightly
Notice here how he proceeds with the psychology of worry. As we consider the trouble, we become increasing unhappy:
Thou seest very well the cross itself; yea thou turnest it over and over in thy mind, and leisurely views it on all sides; thou lookest withal to this and the other second cause of it; and so thou art in a foam and fret:
Rather than brood on the object of or distress, we should realize that it comes from God:
but, wouldst thou be quieted and satisfied in the matter, lift up thine eyes toward heaven, see the doing of God in it, the operation of his hand: look at that, and consider it well; eye the first cause of the crook in thy lot, behold how it is the work of God, his doing.
2. This is a suitable remedy to quiet our heart
Secondly, As for the suitableness of this remedy, that view of the crook in our lot is very suitable to still indecent risings of heart, and quiet us under it: for who can (that is, none can) make that straight which God hath made crooked?
How can this be true? The argument runs as follows: It will impossible to change something which God ordained. No matter how hard you try, it will not change. How could this be a good thing? It teaches us submission to the will of God:
As to the crook in thy lot, God hath made it; and it must continue while he will have it so. Shouldst thou ply thine utmost force to even it, or make it straight, thine attempt will be vain: it will not alter for all thou canst do, only he who made it can mend it, or make it straight. This consideration, this view of the matter, is a proper means, at once to silence and satisfy men, and so to bring them unto a dutiful submission to their Maker and Governor, under the crook in their lot.
Now we take up the purpose of the text in these three doctrines. I. Whatsoever crook there is in one’s lot, it is of God’s making. II. What God sees meet to mar, one will not be able to mend in his lot. III. The considering of the crook in the lot, as the work of God, or of his making, is a proper means to bring one to a Christian deportment under it.
II. The Proposition
Doctrine I. Whatsoever crook is in one’s lot, it is of God’s making.
III. The “Crook”
Here two things fall to be considered, namely, the crook itself, and God’s making it.
A. We must necessarily experience the “crook” which follows from sin being in the world
As to the crook itself, the crook in the lot, for the better understanding thereof, these few things following are premised.
1. The Course of our life is in the providence of God
There is a certain train or course of events, by the providence of God, falling to every one of us during our life in this world: and that is our lot, as being allotted to us by the sovereign God, our Creator and Governor, in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways. This train of events is widely different to different persons according to the will and pleasure of the sovereign Manager, who ordereth men’s conditions in the world in a great variety, some moving in a higher, some in a lower sphere.
2. Our life will have difficulties, a “crook”
In that train or course of events, some fall out cross to us, and against the grain; and these make the crook in our lot. While we are here, there will be cross events, as well as agreeable ones, in our lot and condition. Sometimes things are softly and agreeably gliding on; but, by and by, there is some incident which alters that course, grates us, and pains us, as when, having made a wrong step, we begin to halt.
3. Everyone will experience difficulties
Every body’s lot in this world hath some crook in it.
a. Objection: other people don’t have trouble
He then raises an objection:
Complainers are apt to make odious comparisons: they look about, and taking a distant view of the condition of others, can discern nothing in it but what is straight, and just to one’s wish; so they pronounce their neighbour’s lot wholly straight.
b. Trouble is common to everyone
No one is spared trouble here:
But that is a false verdict: there is no perfection here, no lot out of heaven without a crook. For as to “all the works that are done under the sun, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot be made straight,” Eccl. 1:14, 15.
i. Example Haman
He considers the example of Haman in the book of Esther, a high court official who seemingly had complete power over everyone who displeased him. What he did not know was the gallows which he was having built were to be used to hang him:
Who would have thought but Haman’s lot was very straight, while his family was in a flourishing condition, and he prospering in riches and honour, being prime minister of state in the Persian court, and standing high in the king’s favour? Yet there was, at the same time, a crook in his lot, which so galled him, that all this availed him nothing, Esth. 5:13.
ii. Trouble can only really be known by its own experience
We feel our pain, but not the pain of others.
Every one feels for himself, where he is pinched, though others perceive it not.
iii. No one has a wholly troubled life
There are always at least some moments of ease in even the worst life:
No body’s lot in this world, is wholly crooked: there are always some straight and even parts in it. Indeed, when men’s passions, having got up, have cast a mist over their minds, they are ready to say, All is wrong with them, nothing right: but though in hell that tale is, and ever will be true, yet it is never true in this world; for there, indeed, there is not a drop of comfort allowed, Luke 16:25
The mercy we receive also comes from God
but here it always holds good, that it is of the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Lam. 3:22.
c. Trouble is the child of sin in the world
Trouble came into this world because of sin. And trouble is an inseparable part of our life in this world
Lastly, The crook in the lot came into the world by sin: it is owing to the fall, Rom. 5:12. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin,” under which death the crook in the lot is comprehended, as a state of comfort or prosperity is, in scripture-style, expressed by living, 1 Sam. 25:6. John 4:50, 51.
Sin so bowed the hearts and minds of men, as they became crooked in respect of the holy law: and God justly so bowed their lot, as it became crooked too. And this crook in our lot inseparably follows our sinful condition, till dropping this body of sin and death, we get within heaven’s gates.