Upon a Prison
Seneca has a saying, Precogitani mali mollie ictus, that the stroke of a forethought evil is more gentle and soft then if it were wholly unexpected; which suits well with St. Peter’s counsel to the scattered believers not to think of their fiery trial as if some strange and new thing happened to them. A wise suffer therefore must do is a wise builder, sit down first and count the cost, lest afterwards he exposed himself to shame and scorn. He must first view a prison in his mind before he enter it with his body, and thoroughly weigh what it is he must forgo, and what he must undergo, or else he will soon, like Issachar, crouch under his burden and faint in the day of adversity, his strength and being small.
For the change which your prison makes is the greatest that can befall any, next to the grave, and is but a little short of it, if not equal onto it. Who can set down the several sad evils which attend it in distinct particulars? And who can sum them up into a total, that will not amount onto a death?
Is not liberty, which every being naturally affects,
turned into bondage?
Is not the society of friends, which is the sauce, if not the food of life,
changed into solitude?
Is not light, whose approaches were anciently saluted with welcome like, industriously shut out to make both bonds in solitude the more irksome?
Is not every cent offended with objects that are displeasing on to them?
What does the eye behold but the face of the grim jailer?
What does the touch feel and less it be hard fetters and cold walls?
What is the smell affected with, unless it be a loathsome stench?
What does the ear hear, but the rattling of chains or the grounds of some for breathing out their last?
What is the food that is tasted, unless it be the bread of adversity and the water of affliction?
And is it not then wonderful but such a condition is this, which is the very valley and shadow of death, should be passed through without any distracting fears, without heartbreaking sorrows, yea, with great rejoicing in such tribulations?
It is true, but some there be who, like sullen hawks, live up on the frets and bear many of these things out of the stoutness of their stomach and their natural courage. But alas! this is not to suffer as a Christian, who does not suffer out of obstinacy, but out of conscience; who is not supported by his own inherent strength, but by the power of God, which puts forth itself and such glorious effects ofttimes as that it makes a greater change in the prison for the better, than ever the vilest prison can make in the prisoner for the worse.
Is it not the presence of the king that makes the court, let the house never be so mean where he resides? He that shall read in the book of the Revelations of the city or place that had no temple in it no sun or moon to shine in it, and then break off, which sooner conjecture that he was beginning the description of some forlorn place under the North Pole, then of the heavenly Jerusalem: but when he shall understand that God and the Lamb are the Temple of it, and the glory of God and the Lamb are the eternal light shining in it, he will then say, as an awakened Jacob, Surely this none other but the house of God and the place where himself dwelleth.
Such like thoughts must that man have of prison who knows no more of it than what it is in appearance, a place of bondage, solitude, darkness, and sore wants [extreme deprivation]. But he who has in this condition once experienced the presence of God in it, how differently will he speak of it? Have not many saints when shut up in a dungeon dated their letters to their friends from their palace, their delectable orchard, from their delicious Paradise? Have they not in their solitude been ravished by the sweetness of the communion they have had with God, who alone has been better than 1000 friends? Have they not been filled with hidden manna in their souls, when their bodies have been pinched with the sharpness of famine? Have they not in the midst of their conflicts cried out, If it be thus sweet to suffer for Christ, how full of joy unspeakable will be to reign with him?
May I not say to the timorous Christian as God did once to Israel, Fear not to go down into Egypt, for I will go down with thee into Egypt, and I will surely bring thee up again. Fear not to go into a prison in which God will be with you, and out of which he will deliver you with joy and triumph. It matters not what your pressures be if God put under his everlasting arms, or who your enemies be if he be your friend: or what your comfort speak if he be your comforter.
And this I may add that commonly in the greatest straits he shows the greatest love, as waters run strongest and the narrowest passages.
As the sufferings of Christ (saith Paul) abound in us,
so our consolation aboundeth by Christ.
O therefore say as David did,
Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
I will fear none evil;
for thou art with me,
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.