A Brief Book Summary-Review
by Jenny-Lyn de Klerk
Continuing their purpose of reprinting classic Puritan works, Banner of Truth has now published Boston’s Crook in the Lot originally subtitled, The Sovereignty and Wisdom of God in the Afflictions of Men Displayed. Ian Hamilton’s foreword sets forth the basic argument of this book and is followed by a short summary of Boston’s life. Overall, Hamilton’s foreword is succinct and thus useful for the reader who wants to know the basic argument before deciding to read this book and delving into Boston’s many main points and sub-points. The brief biography after this foreword provides the information needed to understand Boston’s theology in light of his context, but at times may be unclear if the reader does not already know certain terms related to the Scottish Puritans, like the Secession Church or the Covenanters. In the first half of Crook in the Lot, Boston exposits Ecclesiastes 7:13 and argues that, for the Christian to endure the crook in his lot, he must know that the crook is from God. In the second half, Boston exposits Proverbs 16:19 (arguing that the life the humble is better than that of the proud) and 1 Peter 5:6 (arguing that the one who humbles himself will be lifted up by God).
Boston opens with his thesis: a proper view of the crook in one’s lot is necessary in order to bear up under it, and this view is only acquired by faith and seen through God’s Word. In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon sets forth several paradoxes, and urges the reader to not compare the past to the present and distort God’s providence in one’s mind, but rather have a wise view of God’s work by recognizing that whatever he does cannot be undone by human beings. Verse 13 teaches two points: the remedy to foolishness is looking at what God is doing (rather than looking at the crook) and the suitableness of doing this is that it quiets sinful desires by making one see that the crook is from God and only he can straighten it. Three doctrines that show the purpose of this text are: I. whatever crook is in your lot, God made it, II. what God sees fit to make crooked, no one can make straight, and III. you can stand up under the crook by understanding that it is from God.
I. Boston explains the first doctrine by defining “lot” and “crook”. A lot is a “certain train or course of events” set in each person’s life by “the providence of God,” according to his will and good pleasure. In “that train or course of events, some fall out cross to us, and against the grain,” which makes a crook (p. 4). Complainers often compare themselves to others and think everyone else’s lots are perfectly straight, but no one’s lot is perfectly straight. The crook came by sin and is crooked in the sense of being difficult and ongoing. A crook’s nature is characterized by its disagreeableness (it goes against your will), unsightliness (it doesn’t look good to you), hampering effects (by making you uneasy or opening you up to temptation), and ability to entangle (by getting you worked up about it). A crook may fall in various places of one’s lot, and often falls in a sensitive place (where one feels the least able to bear it), which is part of God’s wise plan. The possible places a crook may fall are one’s physical self (sickness), honor as a human being, vocation or calling (lack of success despite hard work), or relationships (death or disagreement). The last can be the worst kind of crook because one often finds the most comfort in relationships, and “the sorrow always proportioned to the comfort found in them, or expected from them” (p. 15).
After defining the crook, Boston defines how it is God’s making. Crooks not caused by sin are made by God in the most full sense; they are a direct effect of his agency. Crooks caused by sin are permitted, ruled over, and turned into good by God. Reasons that God makes crooks are: to prove salvation, motivate to duty, convict of sin, correct or punish, prevent sin, reveal a hidden sin, and help one exercise grace. Knowing God’s making of a crook has three uses: reproof, consolation, and exhortation. First, it reproves the carnal (who do not see God’s making of their crook and thus waste the good that could be brought about by it), unsubmissive (who cannot rest under their crook and thus complain against God), and the unfruitful (who do not see God’s providence in and thus cannot make use of the crook). Second, it consoles believers because they can see it as part of their Father’s good plan for their lives and know that the crook will one day be removed. Third, it exhorts believers to submit to their crook and view it as something from God. You may object that your crook is caused by someone else, but that just means it is immediately caused by that person and mediately caused by God. You may object that your crook could be quickly straightened, but if that is so, then God will straighten in it his time, which is clearly not now since the crook still exists. The main motives to persevere are: it is your duty to submit to God’s sovereignty, everyone has an unchangeable crook and you cannot expect to be exempt, not submitting makes your crook worse since you resist God, and not submitting makes you lose out on the benefits it brings.
II. Boston explains the second doctrine by describing how the crook is God’s marring, how human beings attempt to mend the crook, and why they can’t mend it. The crook is God’s marring in that “God keeps the choice of every one’s crook to himself; and therein he exerts his sovereignty (Matt. 20:15)” (p. 39). God sees where you are inclined to turn away from him, and makes a crook in that place. He makes a crook against your will and leaves it there as long as he wants according to his holy purposes. Human attempts to mend a crook result in uneasiness, a strong desire to have it removed, and using means to get rid of it; the latter two are not sinful if one relies on God. Human beings cannot mend their crooks not because their case is hopeless or because God cannot straighten any crook, even if it looks impossible. Rather, human beings cannot mend their crooks because if God does not mend it, it cannot be mended, though the crook in itself may be something that is easily mended. We cannot remove it by mere force, the use of allowable means will be unsuccessful, and it will not happen in our time but in God’s, which is usually later than ours. The reason human beings cannot mend their crooks is because of their absolute dependence upon God, which his precisely what he intends to teach his children in making crooks. God’s will is irresistible, thus if our will is contrary to his, it is obvious which one will win out in the end. This means that we must submit to him and not cheat ourselves by buying into the lie that we can straighten our crooks by force. Boston exhorts his readers to a) go to God for the removal of a crook, b) go to God for relief if the crook can’t be removed, and c) bear up under the crook rather than fight against God.
a) The only skillful way to straighten a crook is by bringing it to God. Though we cannot stop wanting to get rid of it, we also cannot mend it, and thus we must bring our desire to God. Motives for bringing our desire to God are: any attempt to straighten a crook without God is in vain, attempts to straighten without God make the burden worse, there is no crook that cannot be straightened by God, a crook evened by God is a double mercy (because the fruits of waiting on God are great), God has given his dearest children the worst crooks (which make way for “their richest experiences in the removal of them, upon their application of [God]”, p. 45), and taking our desire to remove the crook to God is “the shortest and surest way” to get it straightened (p. 45). You may say that mending your crook is hopeless, but that is the attitude of unbelief and haste, which must be corrected by faith and patience. You may say that you have asked God again and again to remove it but he hasn’t, however, it may be that it will take longer to remove than you want and you may have to wait until after death to have it removed. The proper way to manage the removal of your crook is to pray in faith for Jesus’ sake, humble yourself under the crook, and wait patiently (not hopelessly).
b) If the crook can’t be evened in this world (i.e., indwelling sin), go to God for relief. To focus on going to God for relief, 1-“take God in Christ for, and instead of, that thing, the withholding or taking away of which from you makes the crook in your lot” (p. 48) so that though you lose one thing you gain something better, 2-“look for the streams running as full. . .[...]
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The Crook in the Lot: What To Believe When Our Lot in Life is Not Health, Wealth, and Happiness