God, in the beginning of this chapter, denounced great and terrible judgments against the children of Judah, as in the first [and succeeding] verses:
For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water… and babes shall rule over them. And the people shall be oppressed, everyone by another, and everyone by his neighbor: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honorable. For Jerusalem is ruined and Judah is fallen… Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves [Isaiah 3:1, Isaiah 3:4–5, Isaiah 3:8–9].
But yet in the midst of all this, however dreadful the judgments may be upon the generality of the people, however woeful the case of the rest of them may be; yet say unto the righteous, assure him and cause him to know, "that it shall be well with him." And here we may observe what a particular care and concern the Almighty seems to have about [the righteous]; he suddenly stops and, as it were, breaks off abruptly the thread of the foregoing prophecy, and gives the strictest charge: go and tell the righteous that, however the people should be oppressed, however Jerusalem should be ruined and Judah should be fallen; yet, that he need not fear, for it should be well with him. Wherefore, what we shall insist upon shall be this:
A good man is a happy man, whatever his outward circumstances are.
By "happy" in the Doctrine is not meant what in the most strict sense it is taken for, the actual enjoyment of the highest pleasure and perfection without the least mixture of the contrary, for that is reserved for every godly [person] to be enjoyed only after this life; but it is sufficient in our sense to make a man happy [if] his condition be very excellent, desirable and joyful; and we are now to show that the state of a good man is such, whatever his outward circumstances are. But we shall first observe, which is our first proposition, that
Prop. I. The outward or worldly circumstances of a good man are sometimes very afflictive. God often sees cause to afflict his children for their good, and we see no distinction made in this world, in the administration of worldly good things, between the good and [the] bad; God causes his sun to shine and his rain to fall alike on the just and on the unjust. Indeed, in some respects the good man is most liable to worldly evils; there are many godly men that enter into heaven through much tribulation, and Christ tells those who are his disciples that they must expect no other than tribulation here, and gives them the reason of it: John 15:18–19, 'tis because they are not of this world. If they were of this world, the world would love them but because they are not of this world they are exalted clear above the world, and this spiteful and invidious world always hates and envies all that are above it; so that as things sometimes stand, the godly man may say that if there be no resurrection, he is of all men the most miserable. But,
Prop. II. The good man is happy in whatsoever condition he is in; and that,
First, because no worldly evils can do him any real hurt; secondly, because of those advantages, spiritual joys and satisfactions, he enjoys while here; and thirdly, more especially from the joyful hope and certain expectation, of the enjoyment of the perfection of happiness, eternally, hereafter. But,
First. Because no worldly evils can do him any real hurt. The good [man] is exalted out of the reach of all worldly evils; they cannot send forth their baneful influences so high as to touch him, and all the hurt they can do him is but as a sharp medicine. Although it be bitter, yet [it] takes away those diseases that would in the end, if they were let alone, be a thousand times more painful and troublesome to him. A good man may look down upon all the whole army of worldly afflictions under his feet with a slight and disregard (that is, as evils, for he ought to have the greatest regard to them as they are for his good), and consider with himself and joy therein that, however great they are and however numerous, let them all join their forces together against him and put on their most rueful and dreadful habits, forms and appearances, and spend all their strength, vigor and violence with endeavors to do him any real hurt or mischief, and it is all in vain. He may triumph over them all knowing this: light afflictions, which are but for a moment, shall only work out for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, and, that although sorrow continue for a night, yet joy cometh in the morning: remembering God's promise that all things shall surely work together for his good, and nothing shall offend. If he loses all the worldly good things he has, his estate, friends and relations, or if his body is put to the greatest tortures and pains imaginable, he may consider that it is all best for him that it should be, and that all the hurt they can do him is only to his body. And our Savior has commanded us not to fear them that even kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do; and whatever the world does against him, he has that to comfort him, that Christ has overcome the world.
How happy, then, must the condition of such a man be! Let any man now ask himself whether he should not think himself happy if he were delivered so from all those evils, that he was assured they would never trouble him more: if he were sure that he should never feel any more pain in his body, never have any want of any good things the world can afford, and never have any care and trouble [about] them; well then, is it not all one as if they never happened to him, if when they do happen to him they do him no hurt? Yea, is it not more than equivalent, if when they happen they not only do him hurt, but good? But this is the condition of a good man, and although good men are often grieved and troubled by worldly afflictions, and indeed they ought to be grieved for their sins, for the purging away of which their afflictions come, yet the godly has no occasion to be troubled any further about them (Matthew 5:3–4, Matthew 5:10–12).
Second. The godly man is happy in whatever circumstances he is placed because of the spiritual privileges and advantages, joys and satisfactions, he actually enjoys while in this life. How great a happiness must needs [it] be to a man to have all his sins pardoned and to stand guilty of nothing in God's presence: to be washed clean from all his pollutions; to have the great and eternal and almighty Jehovah, who rules and governs the whole universe, and doth whatsoever he pleases in the armies of heaven and amongst the inhabitants of the earth, reconciled to him and perfectly at peace with him. How great a pleasure and satisfaction must it be to him to think of it, and not only that God is reconciled to him or has nothing against [him], inasmuch as all is pardoned; but also that this same almighty being who created him, who keeps him in being and who disposes of him and all other things every moment, loves him, and that with a great and transcendent love; and that He has adopted him and taken him to be His child, and given Himself to him to be his father and his portion, and that takes care of him as one that is very dear to Him, continually guides and directs him, and will lead him to the fountain of living waters. And how joyful and gladsome must the thoughts of Jesus Christ be to him, to think with how great a love Christ has loved him, even to lay down His life and suffer the most bitter torments for his sake, Who also now continually intercedes for him at the throne of grace; to consider that so great a person as the eternal Son of God, who also made the worlds, is his lord and master, and is not ashamed to call us brethren, Who will come in and sup with him, and He with him, and to see His arms expanded to embrace him and offering Himself to be embraced by him. And beside, what a satisfaction and pleasure must it give to his mind to think that he is now sanctified and made holy, adorned and beautified with those lovely graces that make him lovely in the sight of God and excellent in the sight of saints and angels; to reflect on himself and consider that he acts rationally and doth that which the best of beings has commanded, that he in some measure acts worthy of the nature of a man, in some measure answers the end of his coming into the world in glorifying God and doing good to his fellow creatures, and that he has not lived altogether in vain: not as it is with many; they live in the world and burthen the same, and had better be dead than alive for all the good they do in it, or any they do towards manifesting the glory of him that made them. The reflection on these things affords such a peace and pleasantness to the mind, as far exceeds and is immensely above all outward delights. What there is no wicked man doth know, neither; neither hath it entered into their hearts to conceive how great are the comforts and pleasures of the godly, and how great [the] things God hath prepared for all those that love [him], even in this life; their pleasures are of vastly a more refined, higher and more noble kind than those of the wicked, besides the many other advantages that this has above that, but especially that taken notice of in the Doctrine: that no worldly afflictions in the world are able to deprive them of them, but they, as rightly improved, do only serve to give them a quicker and more lively sense of spiritual enjoyments. But the time would fail to stay to enumerate all the happinesses of a good man, even in this life; I shall therefore pass to the next particular.
Third. And lastly, from the joyful hope and assured expectation of the enjoyment of the completion of happiness eternally hereafter, to pretend to describe the excellence, the greatness, or duration of the happiness of heaven, by the most artful composition of words, would be but to darken and cloud it. To talk of raptures and ecstasies, joy and singing, is but to set forth by very low shadows of the reality, and all we can say by our best rhetoric is really and truly vastly below what is but the bare and naked truth, and if St. Paul, who had seen them, thought it but in vain to endeavor to utter it, much less shall we pretend to do it, and the Scriptures have gone as high in the descriptions of it as we are able to keep pace with in our imaginations and conception. We shall only say this, that the good man has the assurance and certainty of this: that he shall at last surely enjoy such a happiness as the Scripture describes to us. He has the best testimony, and the strongest security of it; he has a well-grounded hope that what he loves now above all things he shall then enjoy to the full of his desires, and whatsoever little beginnings of pleasure he feels now, he is assured, shall bestow3 the highest perfection without the least mixture of the contrary. And now I leave it to every particular man's consideration, how great the happiness is in the actual enjoyment, and how great in the expectation of it, and with this consideration, the grounds of the hope of this happiness can't be in the least lessened by the greatest worldly afflictions. And now I hope I have sufficiently cleared it up: the godly man is happy in whatsoever worldly circumstances he is placed.