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man, and separates from God our supreme good. “ Your sins have separated between you and your God, and have hid his face from you.” Isa. 59. 2. All afflictions that can befal us here in our persons or concernments, the most disgraceful accidents, the most reproachful contumelious slanders, the most loathsome contagious diseases, that cause our dearest friends to withdraw from us, yet cannot deprive us of union with God by faith and love, nor of the fruition of his propitious presence. Lazarus when covered with ulcers, was kissed with the kisses of his mouth: but sin hath this pernicious effect, it separates from his gracious presence here, and, if continued in without repentance, will exclude from his glorious presence for ever. Now afflictions are medicinal applications for the cure of sin, the disease and death of the soul, and therefore infinitely worse than the sharpest remedies.
The beginnings and progress of conversion to God, are usually by sanctified afflictions. Indeed, considering our folly, and perverse abuse of his blessings, they are the most congruous means for our recovery. The light of God's law doth not so powerfully convince us of the evil of sin, till felt in the effects of it. “ Thy own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee; know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and a bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord of hosts." Jer. 2. 19. The instructions of the rod are more sensible than of the word ; as the feeling of a tormenting disease produceth another kind of understanding of it, than the reading of its nature in books of physic; and they make us more attentive to God's call, and leave a deeper impression on us. It is Elihu his observation, “ if sinners be bound in fetters, and held in cords, then he shows them their works, and their transgressions, that they have exceeded.” Job 36. 8. 9. Affliction clarifies their sight, makes sin to be as heinous in the view of conscience, as in its own foul nature. It follows, “ he openeth also the ear to discipline, and commandeth that they return from their iniquity.” Ver. 10. Gentle methods were lost upon them, but by judgments he effectually commands, they relent and return to their duty. And after conversion, we need their discipline, to make us more circumspect and obedient. The Psalmist declares," it is good for me that I have been afflicted :" Psal. 119. for before he was afflicted he went astray: he was reduced from the error of his ways by his troubles : and it was his experimental observation, " I know in faithfulness” (from the constancy of love) “ thou hast afflicted me." Nothing so cools our zeal to eternal things, as the love of the world. Vital heat declines and languishes, as the feverish heat is inflamed; and till we feel the vexations, we are allured by the vanities of the world : therefore God is pleased by such bitter means to niake us more holy and heavenly. Sometimes he removes with jealousy those objects to which our hearts are so entirely engaged, that the enjoyment of them intercepts the ascending of our affections to himself. Besides, he will not suffer us to perish in prosperity. “We are chastened of the Lord for our amendment, that we may not be condemned with the unreformed world.” I Cor. ll. And is not this an infallible testimony of his love ? David said, “ let the righteous smite me, and it shall be a kindness ; let him reprove me, and it shall be an excellent oil.” Psal. 141. 5. If he valued the reprehensions that were not contumelious and injurious, not to upbraid but reform him, as a favour and dear obligation, how much more should we the corrections of our heavenly Father ? And it will be a greater incitement to an humble and grateful acceptance of this discipline, if we consider what a severe neglect it is, when God suffers the wicked to lead a voluptuous life without disturbance: they are encircled with riches and honours, softened with pleasures, charmed with enticing objects, and thus become hardened in sin; they are riotous and luxurious, and give the reins to their corrupt unruly appetites without control ; the slaves of sense, led only by principles of pleasure, and hereby are inexcusable, and made ripe for perdition, and reserved for final vengeance. Others, though not guilty of scandalous enormities, yet are by continual prosperity settled upon their lees, careless and secure, “ neglect the great salvation," and say in their hearts, “it is good to be here;" and their damnation is as certain, though not so visible, as of those who commit gross and open wickedness. Sad preterition. In the midst of pleasures they are truly miserable. They have just reason to be abandoned to sorrow, being forsaken of the love of God. The bramble is not cut, when the vine is pruned till it bleeds, in order to its fruitfulness: this letting them alone to take their fill of pleasures, is a heavy presage of final ruin. When the patient is desperate, the physician lays no restraint upon the diseased appetite, but permits him to take what he craves. Heb. 4. 14.
Besides, the intention of God is by affliction to exercise and illustrate their graces.
The most excellent christian virtues would be comparatively of little use, without hard trials. Unfeigned faith in the truth and power of God to accomplish his promises, sincere love to him, humble self-denial, persevering patience then appear in their radiancy and vigour. What a blessed advantage is it, by the loss of temporal comforts to increase in the graces of the spirit ? They are the truest riches, the fullest joy, and the highest honour of a christian. St. Peter declares, “the trial of our faith is much more precious than of gold that perisheth ;” 1 Pet. 1. 7. it is refined and resplendent by the fire of affliction, and “ will be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Christ.” It is the advice of St. James, “ Count it all joy when ye fall into divers teinptations. Knowing this, that the trial of your faith worketh patience." Jam. 1. 2, 3. Though afflictions simply considered, may be very grievous, yet if we advisedly weigh, and rightly compare things, even when our sorrowful passions are moved, our judgments will esteem them matter of joy, not only in expectation of future happiness, but as divine grace is thereby drawn forth in the most noble operations. In short, the ultimate design of God in afflicting his people, is thereby to bring them to heaven. Adiction mortifies the lusts of the flesh, purifies the spirit,“ and makes us fit for the inheritance of the saints in light.” By persevering patience in sufferings, they are approved of God, and obtain a right and title to the kingdom of glory. For according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, heayen shall be conferred as a reward to those that overcome. Rev. 22. If there be no enemy, there will be no fight; and if no fight, no victory; if no victory, no triumph; only those who conquer are crowned.
The beloved disciple, with his brother, though allied to our Saviour by consanguinity, who expected by special favour to be glorified without a preparatory trial, yet he tells them, “ without drinking of his cup, they could not have a share in his kingdom :” and this should reconcile our spirits to all our troubles ; for the apostle declares, who was a competent judge, having been throughly acquainted with griefs, and had a prospect into
the glorious kingdom ; “ I reckon that the sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shalt be revealed in us.” Rom. 8.
Secondly. God's love is discovered in his compassionate providence over them, and assisting power afforded to them in their afflictions : he speaks to the afflicted and disconsolate,“ my son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him :" Heb. 12. 5. to sweeten by that tender expression, the rigour of his discipline; to signify his dear sympathy with their anguish and sufferings.
Heavenly consolation! God himself bears a share in their sorrows, “ is afficted in their afflictions :" and the effect of this love is, that he always tempers and moderates their trials to their strength; or increases their strength in proportion to the trial. His corrections are deliberate dispensations, that proceed from judgment, not from fury, which the prophet earnestly deprecates. Jer. 8. His rods are bound up with mercy, his faithfulness
joins with his affection, in moderating their sufferings. It is one · clause of the covenant of grace, made with Christ, typified by
David, “ if his children break my statutes, and keep not my commandments, then will I 'visit their transgression with a rod," to amend not to destroy them; “ but my loving kindness I will not take away from them, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.” Psal. 89. 31, 32, 33. The apostle assures believers, “ that God is faithful, who will not suffer them to be tempted above what they are able, but will with the temptation make a way to escape, that they may be able to bear it." 1 Cor. 10. 13. Our Redeemer in his agony was relieved by heavenly succour, the presence of an angel with a message of comfort. St. Paul found it verified by his own experience, “ that as the sufferings of Christ abounded in him, so his consolations abounded by Christ," 2 Cor. 1. 5. 2 Cor. 12. 9. and the divine power was accomplished, illustriously appeared in supporting his weakness. How many have enjoyed comforts of a more precious nature, and more abundant, in want of supplies from the world, than in the possession of them ? When there is a total eclipse below, the blessed Comforter descends with light, and fills the soul with joy in believing
The historian tells us of a * clear vein of water that springs from Mongibel, (that great furnace, that always sends forth smoke or flames,) yet is so cool, as if it distilled from a snowy moantain: thus the saints in the fiery trial have been often refreshed with divine comforts; and such humble submissions, and gracious thanksgivings have proceeded from their lips, as have been very comfortable to those about them.
Thirdly. The issue out of all, is the most sensible declaration of God's love to them. The continuance is limited by his tender love, till they are prepared for mercy. The prosperity of the wicked is wine in the beginning, and lees at the bottom; but the worst and afflicted state of the saints is first, and will at length certainly end in felicity. In the tragedy of Job, the devil was the author, Chaldeans and Sabeans were the actors, “but the end was from the Lord.” We are instructed by the apostle, " that although no chastisement for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous, nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness, unto them that are exercised thereby.” Heb. 12. 11. It is an allusion to the rewards in the olympic games, when the persons that overcame in those exercises, were crowned with wreaths of olive leaves, the emblem of peace. Thus christians, who with unfainting perseverance in their duty suffer affliction, shall be rewarded with holiness in conjunction with peace. This peaceable fruit of righteousness is not the natural product of affliction : grapes do not spring from thorns, nor figs from thistles; neither can it be so properly ascribed to the afflicted person, as to the powerful virtue, and special grace of the Holy Spirit, who sanetifies afflictions, and makes them profitable for effecting God's intention by them. And when the afflicted person becomes more humble, more holy, more weaned from the world, more resigned to the will of God, this “ fruit unto holiness” will compensate all their pains and sorrows. And in conjunction with holiness, there is a divine peace, a joyful calm and quietness of conscience, in the sense of God's favour; his answers of peace are usually a reward, according to the operations of grace: his comforts are dispensed as encouragements to obedience. Besides, when the sinful corruptions are purged
* Acin quamvis demissum Ætna nullus frigore antevertit,