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of the will: the least velleity, or rising of the heart against the divine command, is irregular and culpable; for not only the acts of sin are forbidden in every command respectively, but all the incitations of concupiscence, before the deliberate judgment of the mind, or the actual consent of the will. But the decree of God is not the rule of our duty; and is secret till manifested by the event of things. This being premised, the reasons are evident why we may pray against an affliction that threatens us, without violating our duty.
(1.) Because afflictions are evils which the will naturally declines, and are not desirable things in themselves. They are not beneficial and productive of our good by any proper efficacy and operation, but by the overruling providence of God, and the gracious assistance of his Spirit. When Aaron's rod was put into the sanctuary, and became green and flourishing with blossoms and almonds, it was not from any inherent virtue of its own, but from the special influence of the divine power; for the other rods remained dead and dry: thus the happy effects of the afflicting rod are from divine grace.
(2.) There are proper temptations that attend the afflicted state. Many are encompassed in a sad circle; their sins procure afflictions, and their afflictions occasion many sins. Indeed, tribulation that is sanctified, by a happy gradation worketh patience; and patience, experience of the divine mercy; and experience hope; and hope maketh not ashamed. But when it meets with a stubborn spirit, there are fearful descents of sin: tribulation excites impatience, and impatience causeth perplexity, and that despair, and despair, confusion. The devil lays his trains in every condition, and sometimes by immoderate sorrow, sometimes by inordinate joy, doth mischief to the soul. And as more perish by surfeits than abstinence, yet the diseases that are caused by emptiness, are more dangerous and incurable than those that proceed from fulness: so more are ruined by prosperity than adversity: but the guilty passions that ferment and rage in adversity, are more pernicious, and more hardly tempered and subdued, than the luxurious appetites that are fomented and drawn forth by prosperity. We are directed by our Saviour to pray, that we may "not be led into temptation, and to be delivered from all evil."
2. A mournful sense of afflictions sent from God, is consistent
with a dutiful resignation of ourselves to his will. It was the vain boast of the philosophers, that their instructions would fortify men with such magnanimous principles, and generous spirits, as with an equal calm tranquillity of mind to encounter all the fierce and sorrowful accidents to which they might be exposed here they speak high against fortune and fate, and resolve stubbornly, that no misery, whether poverty or disgrace, torments or death, should extort from them a confession that it was misery. It was one of their axioms, that a wise man is not subject to the vicissitudes and instability of things here below; that he suffers no conflict of contrary passions in his breast; that he is always above in the † serene, where no tempests can disturb, no eclipse can darken his mind: but these proud pretensions were empty of reality. Indeed such a perfect exemption from all afflicting passions, is neither possible nor regular in our present state: not possible, for the best 'men are not all spirit, but united to flesh; and when the body is under strong pains, the soul suffers in its sufferings; and while we are thus compounded, the loss of those comforts that support and sweeten the present life, must cause grief. It is easy to utter brave expressions, and lay down severe precepts in contempt of evils when they are at a distance, but hard to sustain the spirit under the actual feeling of them; it is one thing to discourse of a battle, and another to be engaged in the heat of it. But supposing by a philosophical charm the heart were so hardened as to be proof against the most piercing afflictions, such a forced insensibility is not regular, but proceeds from the extinction of humanity and piety; and that will appear by considering afflictions in a natural or moral respect.
(1.) In a natural respect, for so they are destructive or oppressive evils, and a pensive feeling of them is suitable to the law of our creation: for the human nature is framed with such
* Nihil agis dolor, quamvis sis molestus, nunquam te esse confitebor ma. lum. Possidonius,
+ Talis est sapientis animus qualis mundi status super lunam, semper illic serenum. Seneca.
Magna verba excidunt, cum mors propius accessit, cum tortor manum poposcit, possis illi dicere, facile provocabas mala absentia. Seneca.
senses and passions, as according to God's intention should be affected suitably to the quality of their objects; and if the soul acts rationally, it is moved accordingly. A saint on earth is not a saint in heaven, raised above all disasters and troubles, freed from all hurtful impressions from without, and sorrowful impressions within, but is liable to afflicting evils: and it is becoming his duty to have his passions pliable to his condition, but without excess; the eyes must not be drowned, nor dry, but tenderly affected.
(2.) Considered in a moral respect, as they are sent from the high and just providence of God, it is absolutely necessary there should be an humble resentment of his displeasure. This is a consequent of the former; for if our affections are seared up, that we do not feel the stroke; how shall we regard the hand that smites us? If we are not sensible of afflictions, we are secure in our sins. Natural sorrow is introductive of godly sorrow. There are two extremes to be avoided by the afflicted, according to the direction of Solomon in the person of wisdom, and repeated by the apostle: "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him." Some are discouraged and overborne by afflictions as insupportable: others are stubborn and careless, and never lay them to heart: they never look upward to the original efficient cause, an offended God, nor inward to the impulsive deserving cause, their sins; but esteem them fortuitous events that happen in this mutable state, without a design to correct and reform sinners; or to proceed from a blind necessity, things of course; or merely regard the second causes and instruments of their troubles: accordingly, when they meet with calamities, all their care is by a perverse shift to seek for relief only in temporal comforts; without serious applying themselves to God, whose end in sending troubles, is to reclaim us from sin to holiness, from earth to heaven, from the creatures to himself.
This secret atheism, like a benumbing opium, stupifies the conscience; and the insensibility of God's hand inflicting evils, is as different from christian patience and constancy, as a mortal lethargy is from the quiet, soft sleep of health: nothing kindles his anger more than neglecting it; it is equally provoking with the despising of his love: it is a symptom of a wretched state of soul; if there proceed no sighs and groans, no signs of grief from VOL. II.
the sense of God's displeasure, it is a sad evidence there is no spiritual life. Indolence under the effects of God's anger, is like the stillness of the dead sea, whose calm is a curse. The Jews, though entitled the people of God, are deeply charged for this prodigious madness; "O Lord, thou hast struck them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock, they have refused to return." Jer. 5. 3. We have whole quarries of such obdurate wretches amongst us; this impenitent disregard of God's hand is a dreadful presage of future and more heavy judgments. "Who ever hardened himself against the Lord, and prospered? Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" The most refractory he can compel to acknowledge with bitter lamentations his wickedness and weakness, how unable he is to contend with his Judge. But supposing a respite from punishment here, there is an hell prepared for stubborn sinners, where is weeping and wailing for ever. Whom the rods do not awaken, the scorpions shall.
II. I shall now proceed to explicate what is included in the resignment of ourselves to God in times of affliction. This will be made evident by considering the leading powers and faculties which grace sanctifies and works in, according to their natural subordination.
1. The understanding approves the severest dispensations of providence to be good, that is for reasons, though sometimes unsearchable, yet always righteous, and for gracious ends to the saints. When Hezekiah heard the heavy prophecy, that all his treasures should be carried to Babylon, and his royal progeny should become slaves there, he said to Isaiah, "good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken." His sanctified mind acknowledged it to be a just correction of his vain pride, and quietly submitted to it: and as there is a satisfaction of mind in the rectitude, so in the graciousness of his proceedings. The misapprehension and misbelief of God's design in afflicting, causeth impatience and murmuring; but when the mind is convinced, that he afflicts us for our benefit, that bodily diseases are medicinal advantages, the remedies of the soul; that the losses of earthly comforts prepare us for divine enjoyments; that the way which is sowed with thorns, and watered with tears, leads to heaven; the heart is compliant with the sharpest methods of
providence. But these things will be more fully opened under the several heads of arguments to enforce the duty.
2. This resignment principally consists in the consent and subjection of the will to the orders of heaven. The will is an imperious faculty, naturally impatient of opposition to its desires, and we pay the highest honour to God in the lowest submission of our wills to his appointments. It is true, the will cannot make a direct choice of evil, nor love afflictions, but the holy spirit by a powerful operation so disposeth it, as to renounce its own inclinations when discordant with the will of God. And the more humble, ready and entire the submission is, the more difficult and harsh the denial of our natural desire is, the more supernatural grace shines and is acceptable. It is the perfection of holiness to do what God loves, and to love what God does. There is a rare example of this in David's carriage, when under his greatest affliction: it was in his flight from his son Absalom, who endeavoured to deprive him of his kingdom and life. 2 Sam. 15. 25. "And the king said unto Zadok the priest, carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in his eyes, he will bring me again, and show me both it and his habitation; but if he shall say, I have no delight in thee, behold here I am, let him do to me as seems good unto him." O happy frame! his spirit was so equally balanced, that if God would suffer a rebel that violated the most tender and strict relations of a son and subject to a gracious father and sovereign, the murderer of his brother, and a parricide in his desires, to usurp his throne, he humbly submitted to it.
3. The duty of resignation consists in the composure of the affections to a just measure and temper, when under the sharpest discipline. Of the passions, some are tender and melting, others fierce and stormy, and if a ponderous oppressing evil happen, or the loss of that good that was very pleasing, they sometimes join 'together, as the clouds at the same time dissolve in showers, and break forth in thunder and lightning. Now when sanctified reason hath a due empire over them, and the soul possesseth itself in patience, it is a happy effect of resignation to the divine disposal. Of this we have an eminent instance in the afflicted saint forementioned. When David was so wickedly reproached by Shimei, and Abishai fired with indignation, would presently have taken exemplary revenge, by stopping his breath for ever: 2