The Crook in the Lot – Part 1

This precious work by the puritan Thomas Boston, posthumously published by his friends after his death in 1732, is a treasured classic and well deserving of our attention and study. I intend to comment upon it’s content one section at a time, comparing it to Scripture, and applying it to our lives.

The first part of this book is an exposition of Ecclesiastes 7:13 “Consider the work of God, for who can make straight what He has made crooked.”

Boston’s opening sentence is somewhat painfully long, and I wonder how many people have read it and then immediately put down this book, never to pick it up again. I urge you not to do so. The puritans were often wordy. But a little effort to chip away at it will uncover some helpful things.

Here is that opening sentence: “A just view of afflicting incidents is altogether necessary to a Christian deportment under them; and that view is to be obtained by faith, not by sense; for it is the light of the word alone that represents them justly, discovering in them the work of God, and, consequently, designs becoming the Divine perfections.”

Dissecting the Opening Sentence

A just view of afflicting incidents“: He means a right way of looking at our trials. Not all people view trouble the right way. Our tendency, naturally, is to view troubles as bad. We cry out like Jacob and say “All these things are against me (Gen 42:36).” We are not prone to interpret our trials as good for us. Matthew Henry, another puritan, once wrote this “Through our ignorance and mistake, and the weakness of our faith, we often apprehend that to be against us which is really for us.” How rarely do we respond as James commends, to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials (James 1:2).” There is a right way and wrong way to view our trials. That is what Boston is saying. He is going to help us develop a “just view” or a right way of looking at things.

is altogether necessary to a Christian’s deportment under them“: In other words, if we don’t view our afflictions that come to us in life the right way, we will not manage them well. Note that. His first words informed us that we may have a right or wrong view of the affliction itself. Now he is saying that we, as Christians, may have a right or wrong response to trials. And these two are connected. A wrong view of the trouble will yield a wrong response. Our “deportment” is how we bear it. How are you and I bearing our troubles today? Do we become bitter, angry, resentful, depressed, worried? Or do we become more humbled, gracious, holy, and submissive to the Lord?

and that view is to be obtained by faith, not by sense“: Here he is saying we must believe what God says about our affliction, not what our own hearts, feelings, thoughts are telling us. That is what he means by this view obtained “by faith.” Faith in God’s word. Faith in His truth. Sometimes, in the midst of severe affliction, our senses, like Job’s wife, can give bad advice (“Curse God and die” – Job 2:9). Don’t listen to the lies of the world, the flesh or the Devil when it comes to afflictions. Our only question must be “Lord, will you explain this to me?” And we find His answer in Scripture alone.

for it is the light of the word alone that represents them justly“: God’s word is the only trustworthy interpreter of our sorrows and pains. Another way to say this might be that it is by the Word of God that we begin to rightly understand the Providence of God. To often we ask “Why is this happening to me?” without ever turning to the Scriptures to inform our answer. Boston is saying that we must let God’s word be our teacher here. As the Psalmist said “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation (Psalm 119:99).” The wisest person on earth can’t explain your circumstances as well as God’s word does.

discovering in them the work of God“: Here is the chief thing to see in our trouble – God’s hand has done it. Troubles are not accidents. Afflictions do not happen by chance. It is an altogether misinformed view of life to assume that God sends us the pleasant things, and the Devil sends the unpleasant. No. Even when we see the wicked and evil hand of man in our trials, or our own sin, it is still God’s doing in the end. As Joseph said to his. brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Amos asked “If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it (Amos 3:6)?” There must be, if we are to view afflictions rightly, a “discovering” (or seeing) in them the work (the action, planning, purpose, hand) of God.

and consequently, designs becoming the Divine perfections.”: Knowing that God has ordered our afflictions is not enough, but we must also know that they are not capricious, random, or even malevolent. No. Their “designs” (that is, the purpose God intends for them) are entirely consistent with God’s nature as we know it (his “Divine perfections”). Another way to say this might be: God’s hand and His heart are aligned. What Boston is saying here is nothing different than what Jeremiah told the people in Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the thoughts I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Those afflictions that have befallen you, dear Christian, come from the hand of our Heavenly Father, and every one of His perfections are in it.

SUMMARY

So how could we write this opening line a bit differently? I don’t think it can be improved upon. But we could try to say it in a way more easily understood today.

For example: “It is very important to believe what God’s word says about our afflictions, and perceive God’s hand and heart in them, if we are to view them right, and bear them well.

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