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correct them in mercy, and for their real benefit. We read, 66 Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” We read, “ Happy is the man whom God correcteth: For he maketh sore, and bindeth up; he woundeth, and his hands make whole. He shall deliver thee in six troubles; yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee. Lo this, we have searched it, so it is: hear it, and know thou it for thy good.” And the apostle comforted the primitive christians with the consideration that their light afflictions, which were but for a moment, should work for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. It is not necessary that the children of God should know that their afflictions shall be removed or diminished. They may exercise faith, and confidence, and patience, and submission, and even joy, while they know that the Lord is their God, and will certainly teach them to profit by those things which would otherwise sink them in sorrow and despair.
1. Since God makes use of afflictions to keep his children near to him, it appears that they are extremely prone to forsake him. Were they naturally disposed to live in nearness to and communion with God, he would have no occasion to use such harsh and disagreeable means to prevent them from wandering, or to reclaim them from it. He does not grieve nor afflict them willingly, but only because they will not regard his milder means of instruction. This he often assigned as the reason of his chastising his ancient backsliding and incorrigible people. When he threatened to chastise Jeshurun, he told him it was because he had waxen fat and kicked, and forsaken God who made him, and lightly esteemed the rock of his salvation. When he threatened to chastise David, he told him how much he had given him, and how much more he would have given him, if he had only been grateful and obedient under the smiles of his providence. He told his people by the mouth of David, that he regretted the necessity of punishing them. “O that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways. I should have fed them with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied them.” And he sometimes said he punished them because he knew no other way to reclaim them. “O Ephraim, what shall I do • unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away. Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets : I have slain them by the words of my mouth.” And he held the same language to them by the prophet Jeremiah. “ They refuse to know me, saith the Lord. Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; behold I will melt them, and try them: for how shall I do with the daughter of my people ?” And again he says, “ I spoke unto thee in thy prosperity ; but thou saidst, I will not hear. This has been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not my voice." God would never chastise his children, if they were not bent to backsliding, and did not refuse to be drawn with the cords of a man, with the bands of love. His using the rod of correction so often, therefore, plainly manifests that they love to wander from him, and are extremely unwilling to return. It is a certain sign that a child is very undutiful and disobedient, if nothing but repeated and severe corrections will restrain, or reclaim him. The children of God, therefore, have abundant reason to lament that they so greatly abuse his mercies, and so often refuse to be reclaimed by any milder method than the rod of his wrath.
2. It appears from the manner in which God instructs and benefits his afflicted children, that they may derive the greatest advantage from their severest sufferings. Light and ordinary troubles often do them more hurt than good, and only serve to interrupt their peace, or turn their attention and affections from one worldly object to another. But great and heavy afflictions never fail under a divine influence, to shake the foundation of all their earthly hopes and enjoyments, and to make them feel the necessity of relying upon God alone for real and permanent happiness. It is only in this way that afflictions ever become truly beneficial to the children of God; and in this way, the greatest trials and troubles have the greatest tendency to promote their spiritual benefit. The righteous flourish like the palm-tree; they grow the fastest, under their heaviest burdens. The ancient patriarchs never made swifter advances in holiness, nor appeared to more advantage, than while they were enduring the severest trials. The faith of Abraham, the meekness of Moses, the patience of Job, the submission of David, and the constancy of Daniel, were the happy fruits of their great and singular sufferings. The apostles and primitive christians never would have lived such holy and heavenly lives, had they not been effectually weaned from the world by a continual load of afflictions. It was greatly owing to the tribulations they endured, that they had their conversation in heaven, and looked not at the things that are seen, which are temporal, but at the things which are not seen, which are eternal. God employs the same means at this day to refine and purify the vessels of mercy. And the oftener he puts them into the furnace of affliction, and the longer he continues them there, the brighter he means to
bring them out. He means to teach them, by experience, the vanity of the world, and the superior happiness which results from the view and enjoyment of himself. They may always, therefore, humbly and confidently reckon that the heaviest afflictions which they are called to endure, are not worthy to be compared to the spiritual benefits which shall eventually flow from them.
3. If God chastises his children for their good, and teaches them to profit under his correcting hand, then those who are suffered to live in uninterrupted prosperity, have reason to fear that they do not belong to the household of faith. Good men have observed, and sometimes complained, that God pours into the bosom of the wicked the largest portion of his temporal favors. While Job was suffering adversity, he stumbled at the prosperity of the openly vile and ungrateful. The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure; into whose hand God bringeth abundantly.” Again he inquires, “ Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power? Their seed is established in their sight with them, and their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them.” David prayed, " Arise O Lord, deliver my soul from the wicked —from men of the world, who have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure.” And he owns, “I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They are not troubled as other men, neither are they plagued as other men.” God often suffers his enemies to pass with impunity in this life, and even loads them with benefits, to give them an opportunity of acting out the corruption of their hearts, and of preparing themselves for final ruin. And agreeably to this, the wise man observes, “ The prosperity of fools shall destroy them.” In the view of these passages and of this subject, the prosperous have reason to fear that they are receiving their whole portion in this life. They are certainly destitute, according to the apostle, of one peculiar mark of the children of God. For he expressly says to professing christians, “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons. But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” All fessors of religion, and those who entertain any hope of their gracious state, ought seriously to inquire whether their hearts are right with God, and whether he has not been granting them their requests for outward prosperity, and sending leanness into their souls.
4. If God can make afflictions profitable to his children, then we may justly conclude that he can make them profitable to
others. Though sinners hate instruction and despise reproof, yet they are not beyond the reach of divine power and divine grace. God is as able to afflict them as to afflict saints; and when he afflicts them, he can teach them to profit under the weight of his hand, and under a sense of his displeasure. He can make them realize the vanity of the world, and effectually turn off their attention and affections from it. He can bring himself into their view, though they say unto him, depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. He can slay the enmity of their hearts, and make them accept the punishment of their iniquity. He can shed abroad his love in their hearts, and bow their wills to his own. He can cause them to loath themselves for all their past stupidity, ingratitude, unbelief, and obstinacy. He can give them the spirit of adoption, and make them feel every filial affection. It is, therefore, just as easy for God to make afflictions beneficial to sinners as to saints. And it is no uncommon thing for God to take sinners into the school of affliction, and teach them saving knowledge. He took this method to awaken, convince and convert one of the most cruel, hardened and obstinate sinners, who had corrupted the hearts and destroyed the lives of multitudes. But " when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God.” How often has God made sinners to profit by the death of their friends, or the dissolution of near and dear connections! How often have unfaithful parents been brought to know and discharge their duty, by the death of their children! How often have undutiful children been taught to remember their Creator in the days of their youth, by the loss of their parents! And how often have graceless brothers and sisters been prepared for living and for dying, by being called to follow one another to the grave! In times of general security, we find more sinners awakened and convinced by afflictions, than by any other means used with them. How often does God send death into a family, to promote the salvation of one or more of its members! And how often does he arrest the chief of sinners, in their career of iniquity, by some sudden, unexpected, and distressing calamity! God can melt the hardest heart, or bow the most stubborn will, in the furnace of affliction. And after sinners have remained stupid and incorrigible under a series of difficulties, dangers, disappointments, and common troubles, how often does he melt them and try them, for their spiritual and everlasting good! So that, in all cases, there is more ground to hope that the afflicted will derive spiritual benefit
from their affliction, than that the prosperous will derive spiritual benefit from their prosperity.
5. Does God teach his children to profit under his fatherly chastisements? Then it appears that every person may know whether he belongs to his family or not. Afflictions are peculiar trials of the heart, and give men the best opportunity to determine what is in reality the supreme object of their affections. God gave Satan leave to afflict Job, for the express purpose of determining whether his love to him was sincere and supreme; and Satan did not ask for a more plain and infallible criterion. And God took the same method to demonstrate the faith and friendship of Abraham. It is written, “that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am: And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” This severe and singular trial gave Abraham a fair opportunity of proving to himself and to the world, that he loved God more than Isaac, or than any other earthly object. And after he had actually yielded a cheerful and unreserved submission to this extraordinary injunction, God declared him to be his sincere friend. “And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him ; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me.” God also takes the same method to try the hearts of his enemies, which he takes to try the hearts of his friends. We read that he led his rebellious people forty years in the wilderness, to prove them, and to know what was in their hearts. When he afflicts either saints or sinners, he means to try their hearts, whether they love the creature more than the Creator. The afflicted always find a struggle in their hearts between God and the world; for they are constrained to fly to one or another of these sources of consolation. If they love the world supremely, they will place all their hopes and expectations upon it; but if they love God supremely, they will renounce the world, and look to him alone for relief. It is only under afflictions, that men can clearly determine how much they depend either upon God, or the world. Then they have a happy opportunity of learning where their treasures are, whether in heaven, or on earth; for where their treasure is, there will their heart certainly be, when any of their earthly hopes and prospects are cut off. If under such circumstances, they do not discover their own hearts, it must be entirely owing to criminal blindness. If they have the spirit of children, they will feel the spirit of adoption towards their heavenly Father. They will go to him for all