Acacia John Bunyan

Seasonable Counsel:
O R,
Advice To Sufferers.

By J O H N.B U N Y A N.

L O N D O N,
Printed for Benjamin Alsop, at the
Angel and Bible in the Poultry, 1684.

Published four years before John Bunyan's death.

I have now done with that first head that was to be spoken to, as touching the law and testament; which we have said was to be understood of the will of God spoken of in the text: "Let them that suffer according to the will of God," that is, according to his law and testament. Now we have showed what it is to suffer according to that; we come to another thing, namely:—


Second, That by the will of God, we also understand his order and designment. For the will of God is active, to dispose of his people, as well as preceptive, to show unto us our duty. He then that suffers for righteousness' sake, as he suffers for that which is good as to the matter of it, and as he suffers for that which is good, after that manner as becomes that truth for which he suffereth; so he that thus suffereth, suffereth by the order and designment of God. That, then, is the next thing that is to be spoken to, namely:—

God is the great orderer of the battle that is managed in the world against antichrist. Hence that battle is called, "The battle of that great day of God Almighty" (Rev 16:14). It is not what enemies will, nor what they are resolved upon, but what God will, and what God appoints; that shall be done. This doctrine Christ teacheth when he saith, "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Luke 12:6,7). He speaks in the verses before of killing, and bids them that they should not be afraid for that. "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him." Then he leads them to the consideration of this, that the will of God governs, and disposes of his [people] to suffering; as well as declares to them for what, and how they should suffer, saying, "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings," &c.

Also in Isaiah 8:9,10 and in Isaiah 2:12,13, you have in sum the same thing inserted again. But we will not stay upon proof, but will proceed to demonstration hereof.

Pharaoh said he would, ay, that he would, but he could not touch so much as a thread or a rag of Israel, because the will of God was in that thing contrary to him. Saul said that he would have David, and to that end would search for him among the thousands of Judah; but David was designed for another purpose, and therefore Saul must go without him (1 Sam 23:25) Rabshakeh said that he was come from Assyria to Jerusalem to make "Judah eat their own dung, and drink their own piss" (Isa 36:12). But God said he should not shoot an arrow there. And it came to pass as God had said (Isa 37:33; 2 Kings 18; 2 Chron 28). Jeremiah and Baruch's enemies would have killed them, but they could not, for God hid them. How many times had the Jews a mind to have destroyed Jesus Christ; but they could not touch a hair of his head until his hour was come.

Those also that bound themselves in a curse, that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul, were forced to be foresworn, for the will of God was not that Paul should die as yet (Acts 23:12). This therefore should be well considered of God's church, in the cloudy and dark day. "All his saints are in thy hand" (Deut 33:3). It is not the way of God to let the enemies of God's church do what they will; no, the Devil himself can devour but "whom he may" (1 Peter 5:8). And as no enemy can bring suffering upon a man when the will of God is otherwise, so no man can save himself out of their hands when God will deliver him up for his glory. It remaineth, then, that we be not much afraid of men, nor yet be foolishly bold; but that we wait upon our God in the way of righteousness, and the use of those means which his providence offereth to us for our safety; and that we conclude that our whole dispose, as to liberty or suffering, lieth in the will of God, and that we shall, or shall not suffer, even as it pleaseth him. For,

First, God has appointed WHO shall suffer. Suffering comes not by chance, or by the will of man, but by the will and appointment of God. "Let no man," said Paul, "be moved by these afflictions; for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto" (1 Thess 3:3). We are apt to forget God when affliction comes, and to think it a strange thing that those that fear God should suffer indeed (1 Peter 4:12). But we should not, for we suffer by the will and appointment of God. Hence they under the altar were bid to rest for a while, even until their fellow-servants also, and their brethren that should be killed— mark that—"should be killed, as they were, should be fulfilled" (Rev 6:11). Wherefore, suffering for righteousness and for righteousness' sake, is by the will of God. God has appointed who shall suffer. That is the first.

Second, As God has appointed who shall suffer, so he has appointed WHEN they shall suffer for his truth in the world. Sufferings for such and such a man are timed, as to when he shall be tried for his faith. Hence, when Paul was afraid, at Corinth, that the heathens would fall about his ears, the Lord spake to him by night in a vision, saying, "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace; for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee" (Acts 18:9,10). His time of suffering was not yet come there. It is also said concerning Jesus Christ, that even then when "they sought to take him, no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come" (John 7:30). The times, then, and the seasons, even for the sufferings of the people of God, are not in the hands of their enemies, but in the hand of God; as David said, "My times are in thy hand." By the will of God, then, it is that such shall suffer at, but not until, that time. But,

Third, As God has appointed who and when, so he has appointed WHERE this, that, or the other good man shall suffer. Moses and Elias, when they appeared on the holy mount, told Jesus of the sufferings which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the place assigned for Christ to suffer at; also, there must the whole of his sufferings be accomplished (Luke 9:30,31). The saints are sprinkled by the hand of God here and there, as salt is sprinkled upon meat to keep it from stinking. And as they are thus sprinkled, that they may season the earth; so, accordingly, where they must suffer is also appointed for the better confirming of the truth. Christ said, it could not be that a prophet should "perish out of Jerusalem" (Luke 13:33). But why could it not be that they should perish other where? Were there no enemies but in Jerusalem? Were there no good men but at Jerusalem? No, no; that was not the reason. The reason was, for that God had appointed that they should suffer there. So then, who, when, and where, is at the will of God, and they, accordingly, are ordered by that will.

Fourth, As God has appointed who, when, and where, so he has also appointed WHAT KIND of sufferings this or that saint shall undergo, at this place and at such a time. God said that he would show Paul beforehand how great things he should suffer for his sake (Acts 9:16). And it is said that Christ did signify to Peter beforehand "by what death he should glorify God" (John 21:19). When Herod had beheaded John the Baptist, and when the Jews had crucified Christ, it is said that they had but fulfilled what was "written of them" (Mark 9:13; Acts 13:29). Our sufferings, as to the nature of them, are all writ down in God's book; and though the writing seem as unknown characters to us, yet God understands them very well. Some of them they shall kill and crucify, and some of them they shall scourge in their synagogue, "and persecute them from city to city" (Matt 23:34). Shall God, think you, say, some of them they shall serve thus, and some of them they shall do so to; and yet not allot which some to this, and which to that, and which to the other trial?

Doubtless our sufferings fall by the will of God unto us, as they fell of old upon the people of Jerusalem. It was appointed by God who of them should die of hunger, who with sword, who should go into captivity, and who should be eaten up of beasts (Jer 15:2,3). So is the case here, namely, as God has appointed who, when, where, and the like, so he has, also, what manner of sufferings this or that good man shall undergo for his name. Let it then be concluded, that hitherto it appears, that the sufferings of saints are ordered and disposed by the will of God. But,

Fifth, As all this is determined by the will of God, so it is also appointed FOR WHAT TRUTH this or that saint shall suffer this or that kind of affliction. Every saint has his course, his work, and his testimony, as is allotted him of God (Mark 13:34). John had a course, a testimony to fulfil for God (Acts 13:25), and so had holy Paul (2 Tim 4:6,7), and so has every saint: also, he that is to suffer has his truth appointed him to suffer for. Christ had a truth peculiar to himself to bear witness to in a way of suffering (Mark 14:61,62). John had a truth peculiar to himself to bear witness to in a way of suffering (Mark 6:17,18). Stephen had also a truth, divers from them both, to which he bare a holy testimony, and for which he bravely died (Acts 7:51-53).

If you read the book of Acts and Monuments, you may see a goodly variety as to this; and yet in all a curious harmony. Some are there said to suffer for the Godhead, some for the manhood, some for the ordinances of Christ, and some laid down their lives for the brethren. And thus far we see that he that suffers for righteousness' sake, suffers, in this sense, according to the will of God.

Sixth, As it is appointed who, when, where, what kind, and for what truth, by the will of God, this and that saint should suffer; so also it is appointed BY WHOSE HAND this or that man shall suffer for this or that truth. It was appointed that Moses and Israel should suffer by the hand of Pharaoh. And for this very purpose, said God, have I raised thee up, that is, to be a persecutor, and to reap the fruits thereof (Exo 9:16). It was also determined that Christ should suffer by the hand of Herod and Pontius Pilate; "For of a truth," said they, "against thy holy child Jesus - both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done" (Acts 4:27).

These are great instances, from which we may gather how all these things are ordered from thence down hitherto. For if a sparrow falls not to the ground without God, she shall not be killed without God; not by he knows not who. And if a Christian man is better than many sparrows, it follows, that God concerns himself more with, for, and about him than with, for, or about many sparrows. It follows, therefore, in right reason, that as the person who is appointed to be the sufferer, so the persons who are appointed to be the rod and sword thereby to afflict withal. Thus far, therefore, the will of God is it that ordereth and disposeth of us and of our sufferings.

Seventh, As all these pass through the hand of God, and come not to us but by his will, so HOW as also LONG is really determined as any of them all. It is not in man, but God, to set the time how long the rod of the wicked shall rest upon the lot of the righteous. Abraham must be informed of this. "Abraham," says God, "know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years" (Gen 15:13). So the thraldom of Israel in Babylon was not only in the general appointed, but the time prefixed, how long (Jer 25:11,12; 29:10). The time of the beast's reign and of the witnesses walking in sackcloth are punctually fixed, and that beyond which they cannot go (Rev 11, 12, 13).

I know these are generals, and respect the church in the bulk of it, and not particular persons. But, as was hinted afore, we must argue from the greater to the lesser, that is, from four hundred years to ten days, from ten days to three, and so from the church in general to each particular member, and to the time and nature of their sufferings (Rev 2:10; Hosea 6:2; Acts 23:11).

And thus, in a word or two, I have finished the first two parts of the text, and showed you what there is in Peter's counsel and advice; and showed you also, to whom his advice is given: in which last, as you see, I have showed you both what the will of God is, and what to suffer according to it. And particularly, I have, in a few words, handled this last, to show you that our sufferings are ordered and disposed by him, that you might always, when you come into trouble for his name, not stagger nor be at a loss, but be stayed, composed, and settled in your minds, and say, "The will of the Lord be done" (Acts 21:14). I will also say unto you this by the way, that the will of God doth greatly work, even to order and dispose of the spirits of Christians, in order to willingness, disposedness, readiness, and resignation of ourselves to the mind of God. For with respect to this were those words last recited spoken. Paul saw that he had a call to go up to Jerusalem, there to bear his testimony for Christ and his gospel; but those unto whom he made know his purpose entreated him, with much earnestness, not to go up thither, for that, as they believed, it would endanger his life. But he answereth, 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. And when he would not be persuaded, says Luke, we ceased, saying, "The will of the Lord be done."
From what has been thus discoursed, many things will follow; as,

1. That the rod, as well as the child, is God's; persecutors, as well as the persecuted, are his, and he has his own designs upon both. He has raised them up, and he has ordered them for himself, and for that work that he has for them to do. Hence Habakkuk, speaking of the church's enemies, saith, "Thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction" (Hab 1:12). And, therefore, they are in other places called the rod of God's anger; his staff (Isa 10:5), his hand; his sword (Psa 17:13,14).

Indeed, to be thus disposed of, is a sad lot; the lot is not fallen to them in pleasant places, they have not the goodly heritage; but the judgments of God are a great deep. The thing formed may not say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? To be appointed, to be ordained, to be established to be a persecutor, and a troubler of God's church—O tremendous judgment! O amazing anger!

Three things the people of God should learn from hence.

(1.) Learn to pity and bewail the condition of the enemy; I know thou canst not alter the counsel of God; appointed they are, established they are for their work, and do it they must and shall. But yet it becomes them that see their state, and that their day is coming, to pity and bewail their condition, yea, and to pray for them too; for who knows whether it is determined that they should remain implacable to the end, as Herod; or whether they may through grace obtain repentance of their doings, with Saul. And I say again, if thy prayer should have a casting hand in the conversion of any of them, it would be sweet to thy thoughts when the scene is over.

(2.) Never grudge them their present advantages. "Fret not thyself because of evil men, neither be thou envious at the workers of iniquity" (Prov 24:19). Fret not, though they spoil thy resting-place. It is God that has bidden them do it, to try thy faith and patience thereby. Wish them no ill with what they get of thine; it is their wages for their work, and it will appear to them ere long that they have earned it dearly. Their time is to rejoice but as in a moment, in what thus is gotten by them; and then they, not repenting, are to perish for ever, like their own dung (Job 20:5-7). Poor man, thou that hast thy time to be afflicted by them, that thy golden graces may shine the more, thou art in the fire, and they blow the bellows. But wouldest thou change places with them? Wouldest thou sit upon their place of ease? Dost thou desire to be with them (Prov 24:1)? O rest thyself contented; in thy patience possess thy soul, and pity and bewail them in the condition in which they are.

(3.) Bless God that thy lot did fall on the other side, namely, to be one that should know the truth, profess it, suffer for it, and have grace to bear thee up thereunder, to God's glory, and thy eternal comfort. This honour have not all his saints; all are not counted worthy thus to suffer shame for his name. Do this, I say, though they get all, and leave thee nothing but the shirt on thy back, the skin on thy bones, or an hole in the ground to be put in (Heb 11:23-26).

2. Labour to be patient under this mighty hand of God, and be not hasty to say, When will the rod be laid aside? mind thou thy duty, which is to let patience have its perfect work. And bear the indignation of the Lord, because thou hast sinned against him, until he please to awake, to arise, and to execute judgment for thee (Micah 7:9). But to pass this.
Are things thus ordered? then this should teach us that there is a cause.
The rod is not gathered without a cause; the rod is fore- determined, because the sin of God's people is foreseen, and ofttimes the nature of the sin, and the anger of the Father, is seen in the fashion of the rod. The rod of my anger, saith God. A bitter and hasty nation must be brought against Jerusalem; an enemy fierce and cruel must be brought against the land of Israel. Their sins called for such a rod, for their iniquities were grievous (Hab 1:6).

This should teach us with all earnestness to be sorry for our sins, and to do what we can to prevent these things, by falling upon our face in a way of prayer before God. If we would shorten such days, when they come upon us, let us be lovers of righteousness, and get more of the righteousness of faith, and of compliance with the whole will of God into our hearts. Then I say, the days shall be shortened, or we fare as well, because the more harmless and innocent we are, and suffer, the greater will our wages, our reward, and glory be, when pay-day shall come; and what if we wait a little for that?

These things are sent to better God's people, and to make them white, to refine them as silver, and to purge them as gold, and to cause that they that bear some fruit, may bring forth more: we are afflicted, that we may grow (John 15:2). It is also the will of God, that they that go to heaven should go thither hardly or with difficulty. The righteous shall scarcely be saved. That is, they shall, but yet with great difficulty, that it may be the sweeter.
Now that which makes the way to heaven so strait, so narrow, so hard, is the rod, the sword, the persecutor, that lies in the way, that marks where our haunt is, that mars our path, digs a pit, and that sets a net, a snare for us in the way (1 Sam 23:22; Job 30:12-14; Psa 9:15; 31:4; 35:7; 119:110; 140:5; 142:3).

This, I say, is that which puts us to it, but it is to try, as I said, our graces, and to make heaven the sweeter to us. To come frighted and hard pursued thither, will make the safety there the more with exceeding gladness to be embraced. And I say, get thy heart yet more possessed with the power of godliness; that the love of righteousness may be yet more with thee. For this blessedness, this happiness, he shall be sure of, that suffereth for righteousness' sake.

3. Since the rod is God's as well as the child, let us not look upon our troubles as if they came from, and were managed only by hell. It is true, a persecutor has a black mark upon him, but yet the Scriptures say that all the ways of the persecutor are God's (Dan 5:23). Wherefore as we should, so again we should not, be afraid of men: we should be afraid of them, because they will hurt us; but we should not be afraid of them, as if they were let loose to do to us, and with us, what they will. God's bridle is upon them, God's hook is in their nose: yea, and God has determined the bounds of their rage, and if he lets them drive his church into the sea of troubles, it shall be but up to the neck, and so far it may go, and not be drowned (2 Kings 19:28; Isa 37:29; 8:7,8). I say the Lord has hold of them, and orders them; nor do they at any time come out against his people but by his licence and commission how far to go, and where to stop. And now for two or three objections:—

1. Object. But may we not fly in a time of persecution? Your pressing upon us, that persecution is ordered and managed by God, makes us afraid to fly.

Answ. First, having regard to what was said afore about a call to suffer; thou mayest do in this even as it is in thy heart. If it is in thy heart to fly, fly: if it be in thy heart to stand, stand. Any thing but a denial of the truth. He that flies, has warrant to do so; he that stands, has warrant to do so. Yea, the same man may both fly and stand, as the call and working of God with his heart may be. Moses fled (Exo 2:15), Moses stood (Heb 11:27). David fled (1 Sam 19:12), David stood (24:8). Jeremiah fled (Jer 37:11,12), Jeremiah stood (38:17). Christ withdrew himself (Luke 9:10), Christ stood (John 18:1-8). Paul fled (2 Cor 11:33), Paul stood (Acts 20:22,23).

There are therefore few rules in this case. The man himself is best able to judge concerning his present strength, and what weight this or that argument has upon his heart to stand or fly. I should be loath to impose upon any man in these things; only, if thou fliest, take two or three cautions with thee:—

(1.) Do not fly out of a slavish fear, but rather because flying is an ordinance of God, opening a door for the escape of some, which door is opened by God's providence, and the escape countenanced by God's Word (Matt 10:23).

(2.) When thou art fled, do as much good as thou canst in all quarters where thou comest, for therefore the door was opened to thee, and thou bid to make thy escape (Acts 8:1-5).

(3.) Do not think thyself secure when thou art fled; it was providence that opened the door, and the Word that did bid thee escape: but whither, and wherefore, that thou knowest not yet. Uriah the prophet fled into Egypt, because there dwelt men that were to take him, that he might be brought again to Jerusalem to die there (Jer 26:21).

(4.) Shouldest thou fly from where thou art, and be taken in another place; the most that can be made of it—thy taking the opportunity to fly, as was propounded at first—can be but this, thou wast willing to commit thyself to God in the way of his providence, as other good men have done, and thy being now apprehended has made thy call clear to suffer here or there, the which before thou wert in the dark about.

(5.) If, therefore, when thou hast fled, thou art taken, be not offended at God or man: not at God, for thou art his servant, thy life and thy all are his; not at man, for he is but God's rod, and is ordained, in this, to do thee good. Hast thou escaped? Laugh. Art thou taken? Laugh. I mean, be pleased which way soever things shall go, for that the scales are still in God's hand.

(6.) But fly not, in flying, from religion; fly not, in flying, for the sake of a trade; fly not, in flying, that thou mayest have ease for the flesh: this is wicked, and will yield neither peace nor profit to thy soul; neither now, nor at death, nor at the day of judgment.

2. Object. But if I fly, some will blame me: what must I do now?

Answ. And so many others if thou standest; fly not, therefore, as was said afore, out of a slavish fear; stand not, of a bravado. Do what thou dost in the fear of God, guiding thyself by his Word and providence; and as for this or that man's judgment, refer thy case to the judgment of God.

3. Object. But if I be taken and suffer, my cause is like to be clothed with scandals, slanders, reproaches, and all manner of false, and evil speakings; what must I do?

Answ. Saul charged David with rebellion (1 Sam 22:8,13). Amos was charged with conspiring against the king (Amos 7:10). Daniel was charged with despising the king; and so also were the three children (Dan 6:13; 3:12). Jesus Christ himself was accused of perverting the nation, of forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and of saying that himself was Christ a king (Luke 23:2). These things therefore have been. But,

(1.) Canst thou, after a due examination of thyself, say that as to these things thou art innocent and clear? I say, will thy conscience justify thee here? Hast thou made it thy business to give unto God the things that are God's, and unto Caesar the things that are his, according as God has commanded? If so, matter not what men shall say, nor with what lies and reproaches they slander thee, but for these things count thyself happy. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you - and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely (lying) for my sake (saith Christ). Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matt 5:11,12). Comfort thyself therefore in the innocency of thy soul, and say, I am counted a rebel, and yet am loyal; I am counted a deceiver, and yet am true (1 Sam 24:8- 12, 2 Cor 6:8). Also refer thy cause to the day of judgment; for if thou canst rejoice at the thoughts that thou shalt be cleared of all slanders and evil speakings then, that will bear up thy heart as to what thou mayest suffer now. The answer of a good conscience will carry a man through hell to heaven. Count these slanders part of thy sufferings, and those for which God will give thee a reward, because thou art innocent, and for that they are laid upon thee for thy profession's sake. But if thou be guilty, look to thyself; I am no comforter of such.

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