We can’t escape troubles in this world. Whether it is the heartache of suffering and loss or the storm of calamity and opposition; it touches us in different ways. The brokenness of this world leaves its mark on us. It may be so deep an anguish and trouble that we cannot put words on it. Christ told us that in this world we would have “tribulation”, but in the same breath He directs us to find peace in Himself (John 16:33). This is genuinely possible, despite all that is going on around us.
Hugh MacKail (1640/41–1666) was going into the ministry when the storm of opposition was rising. He was scarcely twenty-one when he took the opportunity to preach on the last occasion before the faithful ministers of Scotland were deposed. It was a spiritual and attractive sermon but he did not avoid reference to the times however. MacKail boldly observed that “the people of God had been persecuted by a Pharaoh on the throne, a Haman in the state, and a Judas in the church”. Everyone believed this was a reference to the main rulers in the land and the next day soldiers were sent to arrest him. He managed to escape and the next four years of his life were spent in hiding. The following brief clip explains more about this.
MacKail returned to Scotland at the time of the Pentland rising in 1666. While he joined the march for some time he was forced to withdraw due to ill health. On his way home, he was arrested and imprisoned. He was interrogated under torture, his leg was so badly mangled from this that he could not walk or stand. He was sentenced to be executed but endured all these things cheerfully.
He prayed on the scaffold before ascending the ladder, and then said that every rung of the ladder brought him “a degree nearer heaven”. His composure was another fearless sermon in itself. It made a powerful impression on all who witnessed it. His last words were:
Farewell father, mother, friends, and relations; Farewell the world and its delights; farewell meat and drink; farewell sun, moon, and starts; Welcome God and Father; welcome sweet Jesus Christ the mediator of the New Covenant; welcome blessed Spirit of grace, the God of all consolation; welcome glory, welcome eternal life; welcome death! Into Thy Hands I commit my spirit.”
Let’s take a closer look at MacKail’s sermon which caused all the controversy. It does not seem to have been reprinted in the past 300 or so years. It was on Song of Solomon 1:7 and spoke much of the spiritual rest that God’s people have in the midst of troubles. The following is extracted from that sermon in updated language.
There is Rest in Christ Even in the Midst of the Hottest Trials
Where he makes the “flocks to rest at noon”, there is not only feeding for their necessity but also a comfortable rest for their satisfaction. The ground of a believer’s satisfaction is beyond the reach of earthly troubles. Whatever commotion may arise ,it cannot touch their foundation. Believers are compared to a house built upon a rock (Matthew 7:24). In Proverbs 10:25 we read that “the righteous is an everlasting foundation.” He is compared to a tree in Psalm 1:2,3 and his root shall never be moved.
Outward advantages are only like beautiful pictures or other adornments of a house, which may be blurred or removed without affecting the building. They are like fair-feathered birds chirping melodiously upon the top of a tree, which may suddenly fly away without any disadvantage.The solid adornment of the image of God cannot be defaced by any outward event. It is rather rendered even more illustrious and clear by tribulation. The fiery furnace did not hinder the three children from praising the Lord. Nothing can hinder their obedience to God’s command, and one great command is “rejoice evermore.” There are four things involved in this rest that the followers of Christ enjoy in this time of tribulation:
1. Rest from Sin
All the force and fury of temptations cannot constrain them to sin against the Lord. Though a messenger of Satan should buffet them, yet there is a grace sufficient for them (2 Corinthians 12:7 – 9). I believe the malice and fury and craftiness of the devil transcends the malice, fury and craft of human enemies. Though he used his utmost endeavour to try to make Job to curse God and die, yet patience eventually triumphs over temptation. Affliction is the Lord’s furnace where the more they are tried they more purified they come forth. In Job 36:8–10, we read that affliction reveals to the righteous their sin.
The conclusion of a believing soul under affliction is, if God punishes me this sharply for sins that I have already committed against Him, will I not receive greater if I revolt further? This is the conclusion of Ezra (Ezra 9: 6, 7, 13, 14). So, afflictions disengage a believer from sin. It is a dreadful thing to be uncorrectable despite judgements,. If we consider the solemn consequences in Pharaoh’s case, it should bring all such to fear God’s judgements (Psalm 119:120).
2. Rest through Peace with God
This peace is through Jesus Christ. This is a shadow from the scorching sun, under which a reconciled believer may sit and the Lord’s fruit be sweet to his taste. No worm can come at the root of this gourd to make it wither. Enemies may do much to secure enemies for the people of God among men on earth, but they can never cause them to have enemies in heaven.
The Lord will not be bribed by their gifts, for all the beasts of the field are His, and the cattle on a thousand hills. He will not be allured by their pleasures, for at His right hand there is fullness of joy and rivers of pleasures forevermore. He will not be deceived by their craftiness, nor constrained by their power to side with them against His people, for He is wise in heart and mighty in strength. Who ever hardened themselves against Him and prospered? How unreasonable it is then to turn aside from Him by the flocks of his companions. The whole world cannot make God your enemy when you follow Him in turning aside from them. But if you follow the world and forsake Him, he can make all the world your enemies or destroy you and the world both.
3. Rest through Peace of Conscience
This peace passes all understanding and is a continual feast. Better that every creature sets itself in array against a man, than that his sins set themselves in order before him. Better one handful with quietness then both hands full of vexation of spirit. Better to be scorched in the hottest furnace of tribulation, than to have the heart and soul burned up with the unquenchable flames of a self-tormenting conscience. Blessed therefore is that man, even in the midst of outward misery, who retains a good conscience. This cannot be reached by any weapons of devils or men.
O, that these foes, whose hearts are perpetually in the house of mirth, would consider their latter end. The beginning of a sinner’s day may be sweet but their end is bitter as wormwood. Men may hoodwink their conscience all the days of their life, but O, how dreadful is it when death begins to draw the veil and represent things as they are in themselves. I think I hear the screeches and howling of a damned spirit in prison when I read the woeful expressions of an evil conscience in Proverbs 5:11–13. There we are warned away from sin, lest we “mourn at the last” when flesh and body are consumed and we say “how have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!” When a man through heat of persecution is drawn to turn aside from God he runs out of a spark into a flame. God then becomes your enemy and at last you will become an enemy to yourself.
4. Hope of Eternal Rest
There is a rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9). The sure hopes of this rest will not only render all tribulation tolerable, but even desirable. They are but light and momentary. They work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Both the good and evil of the world vanish from view for that soul that has its eye fixed upon the recompense of reward. Christ’s promise that he would be with him in paradise that day (Luke 23:43) made the penitent thief’s cross preferable to all the crowns of the world. The hope of this rest is a helmet of salvation, keeping the head from being wounded. Enjoying this rest places a believer beyond the reach of all tribulation.
Heaven resembles the court of Ahasuerus – none may go there clothed in sackcloth. The Church is beneath the sun here and therefore prone to being scorched but there she is above the sun. The sun shall not light on her, nor any heat (Revelation 7:16). This is the motive the Lord Himself uses to urge steadfastness in Revelation 2:10; “a crown of life” for those who are “faithful unto death”.