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torment, that anticipates and exasperates misery. Fear, that gives the signal of approaching evils, often brings more terror than caution, and like a timorous sentinel by a false alarm, astonishes rather than prepares the mind to encounter with danger. Our Saviour strictly forbids such perplexing apprehensions of future evils, as most unbecoming christians, who are under the perpetual providence of their heavenly Father. "Take no thought for the morrow, the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself." Mat. 6. 34. But on the contrary, to be secure in our prosperity, as if we should always enjoy a favourable course of things, as if our most flourishing comforts did not spring from an earthly original, and might be suddenly blasted, or easily cut down, is to lay ourselves open to surprising disorders and perplexities, when evils befal us. It is the wise counsel of St. Peter to believers," think it not strange concerning the fiery trial, which is to try you, as if some strange thing happened to you:" 1 Pet. 4. 12. for unexpected adversity falls upon the soul in its full weight, and suddenly overthrows it. Uncomfortable accidents strike to the heart, when it is not armed to receive the blow: whereas the remembrance of our frail and fickle state, makes us less troubled in afflictive changes, because prepared for what may happen to us.
Direct. 5. Serious and mournful reflections upon our guilt, and what we deserve from divine justice, is both a motive and a means to suppress impatience and indignation, and to allay inordinate grief in our sufferings. We are directed by the wise preacher, "in the day of adversity consider:" it is a proper season to review conscience," to search and try our ways," to take a sad and serious examination of our lives. If God should exact the rigid score of our debts, and make us as miserable as we are sinful, yet there is the greatest reason to justify him, and accuse ourselves; much more when our punishment is far below our deserts.
Humility is the mother of meekness, they are graces of the same complexion and features. Our Saviour, in the order of the beatitudes, first declared, "blessed are the poor in spirit," that have a low conceit of themselves, as nothing in spirituals, and worse than nothing in sin; as empty of all that is holy and good, and compounded of all evil: and "blessed are those that mourn," in a sense of their sins; and then, "blessed are the meek:" and
these are very congruously joined, for meekness is a disposition inseparable from the other. He that duly considers himself to be a wretched creature, a worthless rebel, and is humbly and sorrowfully affected for his unworthiness, his passions will be subdued; and as melted metal receives any form, so he patiently suffers what God inflicts. A "broken heart" is an "acceptable sacrifice" to God, Psal. 51. and implies a tender sense of sin, as the offence and dishonour of the holy and gracious God, in allusion to a broken bone, that has an exquisite sense of any hurt and it may be extended to signify a heart that is compliant and submissive to God's will, in allusion to a horse that is broken, and easily managed by the reins of the rider. Contrition for sin is always joined with resignation to the chastising providence of God.
Besides, Godly sorrow will lessen natural sorrow. Sin first deserves our grief, and the sharpest accents of our lamentation should be placed upon it; and the more sensible we are of it, the lighter will affliction be to us. As the opening a vein stops by revulsion, a flux of blood in another part; so the turning the stream of sorrow from affliction to sin, is a powerful means to make it cease: there is health in the bitterness of physic, and joy in the depth of this sadness. Briefly, repentance inclines the heart of God, and opens his tender compassion to the afflicted. We have an admirable example of this in the case of afflicted Ephraim: upon his penitential complaint, the expression of his grief and shame for his sin, God graciously answers, "is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy on him, saith the Lord." Jer. 31. 20. When the relenting sinner is covered with tears, the great Comforter descends, and brings healing to the troubled waters: this advice is more necessary for the afflicted, because usually the strokes of providence are properly a reproof and correction for sin; the application of a corrosive implies that some corrupt matter is to be discharged: God is provoked by their neglects, and though love cannot hate, it may be angry; and without renewing their repentance, and recovering his favour, their afflictions are very uncomfortable. It is extremely sad to feel the sting of a guilty conscience within, and the displeasure of God without. The burden is heavy and oppressing,
that is laid upon a wounded back. It is therefore our best wisdom and duty, "to search our hearts and try our ways,” that we may discover what is the procuring cause of our troubles, " and turn unfeignedly to the Lord." This will endear afflicted souls to God, and incline him to afford gracious supports to them. It is true, sometimes our sufferings are designed for trial, especially when they are for righteousness sake. Counterfeit coin, though with a fair stamp and inscription, is discovered by the fire; thus mere titular christians, specious hypocrites, are made known by persecutions: but true substantial gold endures the fire without loss, and the more it is tried, the more it is refined. Thus the true christian, whom neither the gain of the world, nor the loss of life can remove from the steadfast owning of the holy truth, has a clear manifestation of his sincerity. And it is a peculiar favour and honour, when God calls forth his servants to the hardest trials for his name's sake; it is the noblest way of service, a special conformity to the Son of God, more glorious than the resembling his power in doing miracles. In this the saints here have a capacity of serving God above the angels; for the obedience of the angels is always joined with their happiness, but the obedience of the saints here, is often attended with adversity, and is more valuable to them upon that account: as a soldier of courage and generosity, when he is chosen from the rest of the army for some bold exploit, values the choice of the general, as a signal mark of the esteem of his valour and fidelity. "To you it is given, not only to believe, but to suffer for Christ's sake." This is just matter of joy. Innocence, with the faithful companion of it, a good conscience, makes our sufferings from the rage and violence of men, to be comfortable. There may be a feast within the house, when a storm of hail rattles upon the tiles. But it is sometimes so ordered by divine providence, that the evils we suffer are of a mixed nature, partly chastisements, and partly trials. This was the case of the believing Hebrews, to whom the apostle directs his counsel; Heb. 12. their persecution was from the unrighteous Pagans, for a cause purely religious; but it was permitted by the righteous God, as a punishment for their sins. And here the divine wisdom and goodness is admirable, that the same affliction is instrumental for the pu rifying of his servants from sin, and the advancement of his glorious gospel. The first and most immediate effect of his disci
pline, is the humbling and sanctifying them, to prepare them for his love, by which they are fortified to bear courageously the worst evils for his sake.
Direct. 6. Apply the mind to consider the blessings we receive, as well as the evils we endure. Whilst the intense thoughts are fixed upon the cross, the soul is racked with inward tortures, but did we turn our eyes upon our enjoyments, and the comforts that are interwoven with our troubles, it would be a means not only to compose us to patience but thankfulness. The apostle directs us" to trust in the living God, who giveth all things richly to enjoy." 1 Tim. 6. 17. In the poorest and lowest state of life, we have many favours and effects of his rich bounty; and it is the ignorance of our deservings and of our enjoyments, that causeth discontent and murmuring under our troubles. Particularly, this consideration will be effectual to repress the discontent that is apt to kindle in our breasts, upon the sight of the different dispensations of providence; that some are exempted from the current adversities of the world, and live in ease and pleasure, whilst we are deprived of many outward comforts. Suppose a sick person in extreme poverty, were received by a rich and liberal lord into his house, and convenient food, and precious medicines were provided for him, without his desert, or possibility of retribution; would he be so foolish and insolent, as to complain of unkind and unworthy usage, because some others in the family have a more plentiful table and richer habit allowed them? On the contrary, let us look down to those who are below us: how many are poor and miserable in the want of all things needful for the support of life? How many are under tormenting pains, or in desperate sadness, and have no taste and comfort in their abundance? How many are fallen into deep misery, and that aggravated by the afflicting memory of former happiness? How many are surrounded by their cruel enemies, and see no refuge, no sanctuary for their escape, but a necessity of perishing? And can we pretend a better title to the mercies of God, than our fellow worms? Our original is from nothing and our works are sinful: that we are not so desolately miserable as others, when equally guilty, is from the rich goodness of God, and should make us thankful.
Add further; let the most afflicted saint in the world compare his condition with that of the most prosperous wicked persons,
and the comparison will be effectual to endear God to him, and quiet his passions under sufferings.
The good things of this world, in their abundance, variety, and excellence, cannot make a sinner truly happy: the miseries of this life in all kinds and degrees, cannot make a good man utterly miserable; nay, they are inestimably more happy in their sufferings, than the wicked in their prosperity. Manna rains from heaven while they are in the wilderness; supports and comforts are from the love of God shed abroad in their hearts; and their present afflictions are a seed of eternal joy, to qualify and prepare them for the joy of heaven. Our Saviour, from whose judgment we receive the true weights and measures of things to regulate our esteem and affections, declares his disciples, when under the sharpest persecution of the tongues or hands of their enemies, under disgrace, calumnies, tortures and death, even then he declares them "blessed, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them;" and heaven is such a transcendent blessedness, that the lively hope of it, as the reward and end of our afflictions, makes us blessed here: and the most prosperous sinners are by the same infallible rule, miserable here; for the irresistible, irremediable misery that is ordained and prepared for them in hell, they would deceive themselves with the paintings of happiness, with an airy imaginary happiness: whilst the senses are filled, the soul is empty: but they shall not long enjoy the ease of their ignorance and security; the world can do no more to make them happy, than if one should compound and temper a draught, and give it to the poor and miserable, that induces sleep and pleasant dreams for a few hours, but when they awake they are still poor and miserable. Our Saviour pronounceth a woe to the rich and full," to those that laugh now, for they shall weep and mourn:" their false deceitful felicity, will end in real misery. It is * St. Austin's question, who would not prefer grief with a sober mind, before the jollity of a phrenzy? Who would be a merry madman? for he is only happy in his fancy, and fancies himself so, only because he is distracted: and according to the rules of true wisdom, the worst estate of a saint, when lamenting and lan
* Si duo ista proponantur ridere vis aut flere? Quis est qui respondeat nisi ridere? sed tantum prævalet invictissima veritas ut eligat homo sana mente flere, quam mente alienata ridere. August. Tract de Epist.