The previous post may be found here.
C. Why God Makes the Crook
The argument that a good God cannot permit an evil circumstance depends upon a presupposition that God’s actions must be to maximize my immediate happiness and ease. If God permits an evil (and if such an evil cannot be permitted, then seemingly even trivial inconveniences would be inconsistent with a good God), then such a God cannot be good.
Now without question evils exist as does God. This raises the question, Why would God permit these evils? Why is there a crook in the lot:
THIRDLY, remains to enquire, why God makes a crook in one’s lot. And this is to be cleared by discovering the design of that dispensation: a matter which it concerns every one to know, and carefully to notice, in order to a Christian improvement of the crook in their lot. The design thereof seems to be, chiefly, seven-fold.
- Do I really have faith?
In 2 Corinthians 13, Paul tells the Corinthians, “Examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” Faith can be a slippery concept, because we use it to refer to an intellectual position, and sometimes it can mean only that I have a general opinion. Being, in part, an intellectual state it cannot be seen like physical sacrifice or an external ritual. Thus, it is possible for one to claim to have faith and yet not have true faith.
First, The trial of one’s state, Whether one is in the state of grace, or not? Whether a sincere Christian, or a hypocrite?
True faith will necessary disclose itself under pressure. And a crook which persists is a powerful test of the truth of faith simply because it persists:
Though every affliction is trying, yet here, I conceive, lies the main providential trial a man is brought upon with reference to his state: forasmuch as the crook in the lot, being a matter of a continued course, one has occasion to open and shew himself again and again in the same thing; whence it comes to pass, that it ministers ground for a decision, in that momentous point.
“It ministers ground for a decision”: The continuance of a trial provides a basis, an occasion for the decision to act out of one’s faith.
Boston now provides biblical instances of this proposition. Job is the first example. Job is particularly apt because the incident begins with Satan specifically requesting the opportunity to test the trust of Job’s faith by physically afflicting Job:
It was plainly on this bottom that the trial of Job’s state was put. The question was, Whether Job was an upright and sincere servant of God, as God himself testified of him; or, but a mercenary one, a hypocrite, as Satan alleged against him? And the trial hereof was put upon the crook to be made in his lot, Job 1:8–12. and 2:3–6. Accordingly that which all his friends, save Elihu the last speaker, did, in their reasonings with him under his trial, aim at, was to prove him a hypocrite; Satan thus making use of these good men for gaining his point.
He next references the incident of the spies found in Numbers 13-14 and the aftermath. The Israelites having left Egypt came up to the border of Canaan. They then sent in spies to view the land. The land was indeed desirable. But, ten of the spies were too frightened to attempt to enter. Joshua and Caleb were convinced the Lord would bring them victory. Since the people feared to enter, they were sentenced forty years in the wilderness so that all of the adults would die before God would again let the Israelites prepare to enter.
Boston quotes from Numbers 32, where Moses recounts the incident at the end of the 40 years:
10 And the LORD’S anger was kindled the same time, and he sware, saying, 11 Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob; because they have not wholly followed me: 12 Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite, and Joshua the son of Nun: for they have wholly followed the LORD. 13 And the LORD’S anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the LORD, was consumed.
Numbers 32:10–13 (AV)
At the end of this trial, Joshua and Caleb would enter the Promised Land because their trust in the Lord was such that their lives conformed to their profession:
As God took trial of Israel in the wilderness, for the land of Canaan, by a train of afflicting dispensations, the which Caleb and Joshua bearing strenuously were declared meet to enter the promised land, as having followed the Lord fully; while others being tired out with them, their carcases fell in the wilderness: so he takes trial of men, for heaven, by the crook in their lot. If one can stand that test, he is manifested to be a saint, a sincere servant of God, as Job was proven to be: if not, he is but a hypocrite; he cannot stand the test of the crook in his lot, but goes away like dross in God’s furnace.
Next Boston provides the instance of the “Rich Young Ruler.” Jesus tried the truth of faith in a man by telling him to give away his great wealth. The man could not give away his wealth, and so the man put his faith in his possessions rather than in the Lord:
A melancholy instance of which we have in that man of honour and wealth, who, with high pretences of religion, arising from a principle of moral seriousness, addressed himself to our Saviour, to know “what he should do that he might inherit eternal life,” Mark 10:17, 21. Our Saviour, to discover the man to himself, makes a crook in his lot, where all along before it had stood even, obliging him, by a probatory command, to sell and give away all he had, and follow him, verse 21. “Sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor—and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” Hereby he was, that moment, in the court of conscience, stript of his great possessions; so that thenceforth he could no longer keep them, with a good conscience, as he might have done before. The man instantly felt the smart of this crook made in his lot, “he was sad at that saying,” verse 22. that is, immediately upon the hearing of it, being struck with pain, disorder, and confusion of mind, his countenance changed, became cloudy and lowring, as the same word is used, Matth. 16:3. He could not stand the test of that crook; he could by no means submit his lot to God in that point, but behoved to have it, at any rate, according to his own mind. So he “went away grieved, for he had great possessions.”
The trial of the man’s faith proved him to be have no true faith:
He went away from Christ back to his plentiful estate, and though with a pained and sorrowful heart, sat him down again on it, a violent possessor before the Lord, thwarting the divine order. And there is no appearance that ever this order was revoked, nor that ever he came to a better temper in reference thereunto.
And so, a prolonged trial has the ability to provide a true test of faith. A faith which does not fail in the face of prolonged difficulty is evidence of a true faith.
There is an easy and immediate application here: Am I experiencing a seemingly unending trial. Has this difficulty caused me to give up my faith? Then I can rest with some assurance that my faith is real because my faith has not ended.
- It moves us to seek a better land.
Trials make the world bitter to us. And so God can use trials to break us of our excessive love of this world, which shows itself in sin, by making the world bitter to us. Augustine spoke to this beautifully in his Confessions:
“Whither now wander ye further and further over these difficult and troublesome passages? There is no rest to be found where you seek it. Seek what you do seek, but yet ’tis not there where you are seeking for it. You seek a blessed life in the land of death; ’tis not there: for how should there be a happy life, where there is at all no life?”
Augustine of Hippo, St. Augustine’s Confessions, vol.1, ed. T. E. Page and W. H. D. Rouse, trans. William Watts, The Loeb Classical Library (London; New York: William Heinemann; The Macmillan Co., 1912), 181. [Book IV, 12]
In the words of Boston, trial “weans us from the world”:
Secondly, Excitation to duty, weaning one from this world, and prompting him to look after the happiness of the other world. Many have been beholden to the crook in their lot, for that ever they came to themselves, settled and turned serious. Going for a time, like a wild ass used to the wilderness, scorning to be turned, their foot hath slid in due time; and a crook being thereby made in their lot, their month hath come, wherein they have been caught, Jer. 2:24.
An example, the Prodigal Son who when he suffered in the midst of his rebellion and sin, determined to return home to his father:
Thus was the prodigal brought to himself, and obliged to entertain thoughts of returning unto his Father, Luke 15:17.
A continued trial makes it impossible to take rest in the world. The world is simply so uncomfortable, that we must find our rest elsewhere:
The crook in their lot convinces them at length, that here is not their rest. Finding still a pricking thorn of uneasiness, whensoever they lay down their head, where they would fainest take rest in the creature, and that they are obliged to lift it again, they are brought to conclude, there is no hope from that quarter, and begin to cast about for rest another way. So it makes them errands to God, which they had not before; for as much as they feel a need of the comforts of the other world, to which their mouths were out of taste, while their lot stood even to their mind.
How then do we use this observation? When we realize how interminable our trouble lies upon us, then turn our attention elsewhere:
Wherefore whatever use we make of the crook in our lot, the voice of it is, “Arise ye, and depart, this is not your rest.”
He finishes this section with an observation that this turning us away from the world is a means to kill sin, which he calls “mortification”:
And it is surely that, which of all means of mortification of the afflictive kind, doth most deaden a real Christian to this life and world.
There is an allusion Colossians 3:
1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
Colossians 3:1–5 (AV) By means of having our attention turned away from earth and onto “those things which are above”, we put to death our sin. And so God afflicts us for prolonged periods of time to kill our sin.
How then do we use this knowledge? As long as we direct our greatest attention to seeking earthly relief from the crook, our attention stays on earth. There must come a point where we realize, the earth is not comfortable. It is under a curse and is not fit for humans, we should turn our attention from this world to a ‘city whose builder and maker is God.’ Heb. 11:10. If we have not done so, we should take the opportunity afforded by trouble to cultivate a test for the world to come. In so doing, we put away from us the sin which grieves us so.
We should also realize that we often take to these sins in an effort to ease the pain of the trial. But to do so only compounds our sorrow and trial.