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LV. ON AFFLICTION.
All the ways of God are good; yea, all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth, unto such as love him and keep his commandments.
Should any one ask: why then does the Lord af· flict his people? We answer, because he loves them. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten." This will appear from a few reflections on the nature, design, and end of affliction.
Its nature is indeed unpleasant to the children of men. St. Paul declares it to be “not joyous, but grievous." The cup of affliction is composed of bitter ingredients, at which our nature revolts. But should we commend the physician, who prescribed only luscious medicines for a distempered stomach ? His skill would rather appear in administering a bitter, yet salutary draught. And so it is with our heavenly Physician. He knows our inward malady, and he has medicine to heal our sickness. Affliction is one of his medicinal dispensations, which is more or less bitter, according to the spiritual malady of his people. But our heavenly Father, who does not willingly afflict nor grieve the children of men, never infuses more wormwood and gall, than is need ful to correct our vitiated souls.
Hence we plainly see what is the design of affliction. It is to do us good. The tender-hearted phy. sician for the body, aims at nothing but his patient's recovery. He calls every day. He watches every turn of the complaint. And is our heavenly Physician less attentive to his dear afflicted children ? Ah! no. He calls not merely once a day. He is always near them. His eye is always upon them. His ears are always open to their prayers. When he sees a favourable change in their spiritual state, he administers the cordials of his promises to
strengthen and restore them to that peace and comfort and joy, which before the afflictive dispensation they were not in a proper frame of spirit to receive.
Thus we see the gracious end of affliction. Before the trial came, they were perhaps growing lukewarm, or insensibly gliding into a sinful compliance with the customs of the world. Or, they were settling upon the lees, and feeling quite at ease in Zion. Surrounded with earthly comforts, they were forsaking the fountain of living water, and idolizing some created good in the bosom of domestic life. But now, they return unto the Lord, and find their happiness in their God.
Our heavenly Father, in perfect accordance with his covenant of life and peace, sends the needful trial : “ If thy children forsake my law, and walk not in my covenant; then will I visit their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.” Thus for a season, if need be, we are in heaviness through manifold temptations.
The Lord deals graciously with his people. Though he puts them into the furnace, yet he will not suffer it to be heated one degree more than is needful to consume the dross and purify their souls. He presides over it himself. His wisdom and love regulate its strength. Thus, in the midst of all their trials, he never leaves them nor forsakes them. In this way, the Holy Spirit carries on the great work of sanctification in their souls, manifesting their sonship by these fatherly corrections, and fitting them for that pure region where nothing can enter that defileth or maketh a lie.
And is it thus with God's dear children? Then 0! my soul, receive the cup of affliction with humble resignation, and adoring love. Kiss the hand that smites. Bless the rod which chastises. Whilst the bramble is suffered to grow wild, the vine is pruned. Whilst God says of the wicked, “ Let them alone;" he scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. And truly his “ loving correction” shall make thee great.
How consoling then to the true believer is this sweet assurance of the royal Psalmist : “ All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies." David was a tried saint. He had often been made to pass through the furnace of affliction, and always found himself the better for his trials. In the 119th Psalm he says: “ It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept thy word.” And then he adds, “ Thou art good and doest good : teach me thy statutes.” Thus acknowledging the goodness of his heavenly Father, in not leaving him to follow the devices and desires of his own deceitful heart.
It is delightful to consider that the sufferings which believers are now called to endure, are the only sufferings which they shall ever experience. In heaven there is neither sighing nor sorrow. None of its inhabitants say, I am sick, for the former things are passed away. What an animating thought! It should make the children of God exclaim with the apostle : “ I am full of comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all my tribulation.”
If we read the word of God with due attention, we shall find that the most eminent saints have been the most tried. The faith of Abraham-the patience of Job-the meekness of Moses-the purity of Joseph-the devotion of Daniel-would not have been so conspicuous, had not these peculiar graces been brought into exercise by trials remarkably adapted to each.
God is a Sovereign, wise and good. He can over
rule the sorest temptations of Satan, to the establish ing of his people. “Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good ?" is a question full of comfort to the tempted believer. Suffering he may endure; but real injury he shall not sustain, since eternal truth hath declared, that “all things shall work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” " Wherefore, let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing as unto' a faithful Creator."
The happiness of man consists, not in an exemp tion from trials, but in having his will swallowed up in the will of God. For this we are taught to pray: “ Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." Just in proportion as we approximate to the unre. served obedience of the heavenly host, we shall be happy. Our trials are sent for this very purpose to mould our will into the divine will, and consequently to make us holy and happy.
From these few reflections, it is evident that the advantages which believers derive from sanctified afflictions are many and great.
In affliction, we often detect the sin which most easily besets us. This is the most difficult sin to find out, though the most in operation, on account of its blinding and deceiving nature. We have therefore cause to bless. God for shewing to us the accursed thing, and wherefore he contendeth with us.
In affliction, we obtain clear views of the insufficiency of all earthly things. A dark shade is thrown over the smiling scenes of busy life. We discover the little value of those possessions, the attainment of which once appeared so desirable.
In affliction, we learn to estimate above all treasures, an assured interest in Jesus Christ. The blessedness of the believer is then felt and acknow
ledged. His peace of mind, and hope of glory, the fruits of saving faith, are esteemed more precious than rubies.
In affliction, the promises of God's holy word are sweeter than honey and the honey-comb. They are sacred cordials administered by infinite love, to revive and strengthen the drooping saint.
Thus, whilst the prosperous worldling in the midst of his abundance despises the “hidden manna ;" the contrite believer in his heaviest trials can extract sweetness from “the wormwood and the gall.” A Saviour's love experienced in the soul, renders all palatable, however distasteful to our nature.
If man had never sinned, suffering had been unknown; but having lost the divine image, infinite wisdom is pleased to appoint sundry trials, as means in his hands, for restoring us to that filial spirit which we lost through the fall. Sanctified affliction can bend the stubborn will, and bring us to the frame and temper of little children.
Hence we find in Scripture much to this effect. “ Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him ; for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he, whom the father chasteneth not. Shall we not be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? He, chastens us for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous but grievous ; nevertheless af. terward, it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby : wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way, but let it rather be healed.” .