Silence in Afflictions

August 2, 2017

[In pain because of God’s discipline for his sin, David prays, “I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it” (Psalm 39:9). While we will consider this verse in the context of the entire psalm on Sunday, the English Puritan pastor Thomas Brooks wrote an entire book based on David’s statement, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod (1659). Here are some excerpts and the first part of his outline in updated language for your consideration and meditation. You can read the entire book via this link. To distinguish between my words and Brooks’, my paraphrases are in italics – Coty]

Christians, it is mercy, it is rich mercy, that every affliction is not an execution, that every correction is not a damnation.

There is a PRUDENT silence, a HOLY, a GRACIOUS silence; a silence that springs from prudent principles, from holy principles, and from gracious causes and considerations; and this is the silence here meant.

I: What does this silence include?

It includes and takes in these eight things:

First, acknowledging that God is the author of all our afflictions

There is no sickness so little—but God has a finger in it; though it be but the aching of the little finger.

Such as can see the ordering hand of God in all their afflictions, will, with David, lay their hands upon their mouths, when the rod of God is upon their backs, 2 Sam. 16:11, 12. If God’s hand be not seen in the affliction, the heart will do nothing but fret and rage under affliction.

Secondly, acknowledging God’s majesty, sovereignty, might, and authority over us.

A man never comes to humble himself, nor to be silent under the hand of God, until he comes to see the hand of God to be a mighty hand. . . . When men look upon the hand of God as a weak hand, a feeble hand, a low hand, a mean hand—their hearts rise against his hand.

Thirdly, this silence springs from a quiet and calm mind and spirit

Aaron, Eli, and Job. . . saw that it was a Father that put those bitter cups in their hands, and love that laid those heavy crosses upon their shoulders, and grace that put those yokes about their necks; and this caused much quietness and calmness in their spirits.

Some men . . . hide and conceal their grief and trouble; but could you but look into their hearts, you will find all in an uproar, all out of order, all in a flame; and however they may seem to be cold without, yet they are all in a hot burning fever within. Such a feverish fit David was once in, Psalm 39:3. But certainly a holy silence allays all tumults in the mind, and makes a man ‘in patience to possess his own soul.’

Fourthly, this silence springs from acquitting God of all blame or injustice in bringing the affliction on us.

God’s afflictions are always just; he never afflicts but in faithfulness. His will is the rule of justice; and therefore a gracious soul dares not cavil nor question his proceedings. The afflicted soul knows that a righteous God can do nothing but that which is righteous; it knows that God is uncontrollable, and therefore the afflicted man puts his mouth in the dust, and keeps silence before him.

Fifthly, this silence springs from five conclusions about the eventual impact of the afflictions on us.

Five conclusions based on Lamentations 3:27-33

a) The afflictions shall work for their good

Surely these afflictions are but the Lord’s pruning-knives, by which he will bleed my sins, and prune my heart, and make it more fertile and fruitful; they are but the Lord’s potion, by which he will clear me, and rid me of those spiritual diseases and maladies, which are most deadly and dangerous to my soul!

b) Afflictions shall keep them humble and low

c) The rod shall not always lie upon the back of the righteous.

d) God will he have compassion, according to the multitude of his mercies

The life of a Christian is filled up with interchanges of sickness and health, weakness and strength, want and wealth, disgrace and honor, crosses and comforts, miseries and mercies, joys and sorrows, mirth and mourning. All honey would harm us; all wormwood would undo us—a composition of both is the best way in the world to keep our souls in a healthy constitution. It is best and most for the health of the soul that the warm south wind of mercy, and the cold north wind of adversity—do both blow upon it.

e) God’s heart was not in their afflictions, though his hand was.

He takes no delight to afflict his children; it goes against his heart. It is a grief to him to be grievous to them, a pain to him to be punishing of them, a sorrow to him to be striking them.

Sixthly, this silence springs from a conviction from our own conscience to be quiet and still before God

I charge you, O my soul—not to mutter, nor to murmur; I command you, O my soul, to be dumb and silent under the afflicting hand of God.

Peace, O my soul! be still, leave your muttering, leave your murmuring, leave your complaining, leave your chafing, and vexing—and lay your hand upon your mouth, and be silent.

Seventhly, this silence includes a surrendering of ourselves to God while being afflicted.

The silent soul gives himself up to God. The secret language of the soul is this—’Lord, here am I; do with me what you please, write upon me as you please—I give up myself to be at your disposal.’

Eighthly and lastly, this silence comes from a hopeful patience while waiting upon the Lord to work His deliverance.

II: What does this patient silence NOT EXCLUDE

Eight things:

First, this silence does not exclude our feeling the pain of our afflictions

Psalm 39:10-11: [David] is sensible of his pain as well as of his sin; and having prayed off his sin in the former verses, he labors here to pray off his pain.

God allows his people to groan, though not to grumble.

Secondly, this silence does not exclude praying for the end of our afflictions

Thirdly, this silence does not exclude sorrow for our sin that led to the affliction, as well as efforts to crush that sin.

A holy, a prudent silence does not exclude men’s being kindly affected and afflicted with their sins, as the meritorious cause of all their sorrows and sufferings,

In all our sorrows we should read our sins! When God’s hand is upon our backs, our hands should be upon our sins.

Fourthly, such a silence does not exclude teaching others the lessons from our afflictions.

Fifthly, such a silence does not exclude some mourning and weeping

Sixthly, such a silence does not even exclude sighing and groaning

A man may sigh, and groan and roar under the hand of God, and yet be silent. It is not sighing—but muttering; it is not groaning—but grumbling; it is not roaring—but murmuring—which is opposite to a holy silence.

Sometimes the sighs and groans of a saint do in some manner, tell that which his tongue can in no manner utter.

Seventhly, such a silence does not exclude the use of means to end the affliction

We may neglect God as well by neglecting of means, as by trusting in means. It is best to use them, and in the use of them, to live above them.

Eighthly, and lastly, such a silence does not exclude speaking against those humans who have been the earthly cause of our afflictions.

III:  Why must Christians exercise this kind of silence under even the greatest afflictions and trials?

Eight Reasons:

Reason 1. That they may the better hear and understand the voice of the rod.

Reason 2. That they may . . . distinguish themselves from the men of the world, who usually fret and fling, mutter or murmur, curse and swagger, when they are under the afflicting hand of God.

Reason 3, that they may be conformable to Christ their head, who was dumb and silent under his sorest trials.

Reason 4. it is ten thousand times a greater judgment and affliction, to be given to a fretful spirit, a froward spirit, a muttering spirit under an affliction, then it is to be afflicted.

Reason 5: a holy, a prudent silence under afflictions, under miseries, doth best . . . fit the afflicted for the receipt of mercies.

Reason 6: it is fruitless . . . to strive, to contest or contend with God.

Reason 7: [these afflictions] shall cross and frustrate Satan’s great design and expectation.

Reason 8: That we may be like our forefathers in the faith who were patient and silent under such afflictions.

Last sentence in the book:

Thy life is but short, therefore thy troubles cannot be long; hold up and hold out quietly and patiently a little longer, and heaven shall make amends for all.



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