God gives us two different days. He gives us the day of prosperity, and He gives us the day of adversity. We must recognize that “surely God has appointed the one as well as the other” (Eccl. 7:13–14).
In 1686, shortly after Jean Claude, the famous Huguenot theologian, had left France because of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (which had allowed for toleration of the French Reformed Churches) he preached a sermon on that passage to a crowd of Dutch citizens and Huguenot refugees in The Hague, Netherlands for a day of fasting. Claude could not have chosen a more appropriate text. The Dutch had enjoyed the prosperity and blessing of the Lord in a free, Protestant land. The Huguenot refugees were still mourning their flight from their French homeland and attempting to put the pieces together in a new land.
Claude’s sermon was recently translated by Rev. Charles Telfer and printed in Vol. 19 of the Mid-America Journal of Theology (purchase it here). This sermon is a powerful exposition of that particular text as well as an excellent illustration of the power of Huguenot preaching. It is also one of my favorite sermons.
When Claude arrived at the point of application in his sermon, he addressed each group (the Dutch and the French) within the congregation separately. To those who had lived in prosperity he encouraged them to be grateful and use what they possessed to God’s glory:
The first application these words commend to you is to acknowledge this gentle and immortal hand of God that gives you his protection and has heaped you with his benefits. Of all the vices that dishonor men, there is none that renders them more odious in civil society than ingratitude. The ungrateful person is like the bush that scratches both the hand that plants it as well as the hand that pulls it out. But if this vice is great in human interactions, how much more must it be in religion? How great an offense is ingratitude toward God who not only supports you with more than fatherly indulgence, who not only keeps far from your territories all the storms that fall upon your neighbors, covering you with his shield of providence a thousandfold more sure and unbreachable than any you might hope to find elsewhere, but who furthermore seems to exhaust all his bounty for you! He is a God who cultivates you as his own Eden; he makes all things flourish among you: arts, sciences, disciplines, law, the military, commerce, treaties. He is a God who has filled your homes with riches and blessings and who accompanies you in all your ways. Make use then of your good, not in making it redound to your own glory, neither in the service of your lusts, but in making it redound to his glory and in his service.
On the other side, he spoke to those who were experiencing adversity and encouraged them to learn the lessons they needed to learn from their afflictions and humble themselves. He did not want them to look at those who had oppressed them in France but to God who was the ultimate cause of their sufferings:
Where could it have come from except from these two causes: from the greatness of our sins and from their obstinacy? We have multiplied the number of our sins and God has multiplied his plagues; sins have inundated all our flocks and God has struck them all. Our sins have not spared even the one who was most holy in religion. God has carried him off from our midst as a good of which we were the unjust possessors. We have been deaf to the voice of the Lord’s exhortations, deaf to the voice of his good deeds to us, deaf to that of his warnings, senseless under his first chastisements, senseless under his second and third chastisements, senseless to the long list of notices that came to us from heaven. We have been sinners in prosperity, sinners in adversity, sinners under the discipline of his gospel, sinners under the protection of his providence, sinners under the severity of his rod. All this has exhausted his patience and made him finally pronounce this terrifying order, “Cut down the unfruitful fig tree. Why does it take up the ground?” O God, how you are to be adored in your judgments! “Yours is the justice, and ours is the confusion of face.”
However, while confronting his hearers with their sins, he did not want to fail to open up the glorious bounty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
“Go, my people. Enter into your inner rooms and close the door on yourself. Hide yourself for a very small moment until the indignation be passed.” If our sins are great, the blood of Jesus Christ is a price still greater. And there will be propitiation and grace for us in virtue of his death and his intercession. If our enemies are powerful, God is still more powerful than they are. The Prophet says, “The floods have lifted up their noise. The floods have lifted up their streams, but the Lord is on high, more powerful than the noise of the great waters and than the strong waves of the sea.”
Finally, Claude wanted to encourage the people to believe that God would be gracious to them upon their repentance. He concluded His sermon with the following prayer:
May God strengthen and make unshakable the foundations of your country. May he preserve the high powers, under whose legitimate authority you live. And as those powers cover you with the shadow of their wings, may God cover them likewise with the shadow of his, and may he reign over them by a perpetual influence of his Spirit and his peace and his blessing. May God keep the wise and glorious prince that his good providence has set at the head of your republic and of your armies, and has made to be as the eye and arm of this flourishing state—the eye to guide it with understanding and the arm to protect it with strength. May the God of his fathers that he worships and serves make his angel go before his steps, and may he himself be his shield and defense. May God bless all those who bless him and may he hold back and restrain the fury of his enemies. May God bless and keep the great and royal princess whom he has set next to him, whose many virtues give out such a sweet aroma in the church and in the world. May God take away the ardent desire that afflicts our hearts, to see born from this sacred union a blessed posterity. May God take it away by fulfilling it and changing it to joy and thanksgiving!
May God sanctify you all, my very dear brethren, and kindle in you more and more a zeal for his gospel, a love of his truth, and, adding along with it, an unrelenting practice of good works and a sincere intention to do your duty in all things. May God fulfill your prayers, lengthen the day of your good, and keep far away the day of adversity. May God be your defense, your shade and your right hand. May God keep the sun from striking you by day and the moon by night. After having filled your hearts with faith, piety, charity and justice, may he similarly overflow your families with with goods and prosperity, enabling you to accomplish your purposes, giving notable success to your labors and an upbringing in his fear to your dear children.
May the Lord hear such a prayer for His people in our own day.