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so delight in mercy, and is so tender of the workmanship of his hands, especially his own people, that he never proceedeth to severity as long as there is some way unessayed to reclaim them, not yet made use of. As one that would open a door and knows not the key, he tries key after key, one dispensation after another : he doth not take the sinner at first word, but followeth him with frequent warnings of his danger, with offers of advantage if he return; yea, at last he is loth to give them up to severe judgments, even then when he can scarce, without imputation to his holiness, forbear any longer : " How shall I give thee up, &c.; for I am God and not man" (Hos. xi. 8, 9). Such expostulations and speeches are very frequent in the prophets, and all these speeches do abundantly justify God when he judgeth: he would fain hold off the extremity of judgments deserved by them ; the Lord maketh a stand, and would fain be prevented before he proceedeth to his strange work.
4thly, The judginents inflicted are always short of the cause, surely they never exceed the value of it: “ Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve" (Ezra ix, 13). God doth not exact the whole debt of sinners which they owe to his justice. It was a heavy stroke that then lighted upon Jerusalem. Was their wound but a scratch, or affliction little? Doleful and sad ruin was brought upon that place; the city and the temple burnt to ashes, the people carried captive to a strange land; yet, “ Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities de. serve." They were in Babylon, they might have been in Hell: our reward is always more than our desert ; but our punishment is always less than our desert. We count it a favour if forfeiture of life be punished with banishment, or if a sentence of banishment be commuted into a fine, or the fine be mitigated and brought lower; and shall we think God dealeth rigorously with us? When he layeth on some heavy cross, he might have cast us into Hell, and laid his hand upon us for ever. See Job xi. 6: “ Know, therefore, that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.” We have low thoughts of sin, and therefore have grievous apprehensions of God's judgments. We do but sip of the cup, when God might make us to drink of the dregs of it.
Secondly, I am to prove that the godly may discern much of faithfulness in their afflictions: this will appear to you by these considerations:
Ist, In the covenant of grace, God hath promised to bestow upon his people real and principal mercies: those are promised absolutely, other things conditionally. God doth not break his covenant if he doth not give us temporal happiness, because that is not absolutely promised, but only so far forth as it may be good for us; but eternal life is promised without any such exception unto the heirs of promise. Eternal promises and threatenings, being of things absolutely good or evil, are therefore absolute and peremptory; the righteous shall not fail of the reward, nor the wicked escape the punishment; but temporal promises and threatenings, being of things not simply good or evil, are reserved to be dispensed according to God's wisdom and good pleasure, in reference and subordination to eternal happiness. It is true it is said, that godliness hath the promise of this life and that which is to come (1 Tim. iv. 8); but with this reference, that the less give place to the greater : if the promises of this life may hinder us in looking after the promises of the life to come, God may take the liberty of the cross, and withhold these things, and disappoint us of our worldly hope. A man lying under the guilt of sin may many times enjoy worldly comforts to the envy of God's children, and one of God's children may be greatly afflicted and distressed in the world; for in all these dispensations God looketh to his end, which is to make us eternally happy.
2ndly, This being God's end, he is obliged, in point of fidelity, to use all the means that conduce thereunto, that he may attain his eternal purpose in bringing his holy ones to glory : “ All things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. viii. 28). Good! what good ? It may be temporal; so it falls out sometimes, a man's temporal good is promoted by his temporal loss: “ Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good” (Gen. 1. 20): they sold their brother a slave, but God meant him to be a great potentate in Egypt. It may be spiritual good : “ It is good for me that I have been afflicted” (Psalm cxix. 71); but, to be sure, eternal good to bring about his eternal purpose of making them everlastingly happy. And in this sense the Apostle saith, “ All are yours” (1 Cor. iii. 22); ordinances, providences, life, death, all dispensed with a respect to their final happiness or eternal benefit: not only ordinances to work internal grace, but providences as an external help and means ; for, God having set his end, he will prosecute it congruously, and as it may agree with man's nature, by external providences as well as internal grace. See Psalm cxxv. 3, “ The rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous :” God hath power enough to give them grace to bear it, though the rod had continued ; and can keep his people from iniquity, though the rod be upon them; but he considereth the imbecility of man's nature, which is apt to tire under long afflictions, and therefore not only giveth more grace, but takes off the temptation. He could humble Paul without “ a thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. xii. 7); but he will use a congruous means.
3rdly, Among these means afflictions, yea, sharp afflictions, are some of those things which our need and profit requireth : they are needful to weaken and mortify sin : “ By this, therefore, shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged" (Isa. xxvii. 9); to increase and quicken grace: “But he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness” (Heb. xii. 10). Without this discipline we should forget God and ourselves; therefore, that we may return to God, he afflicts us : “ In their affliction they will seek me early” (Hos. v. 6); and come to ourselves : the prodigal " came to himself” (Luke xv. 17). Afflictions are necessary for us upon the former suppositions; namely, that God hath engaged himself to perfect grace where it is begun, and to use all means which may conduce to our eternal welfare, that we may not miscarry and come short of our great hopes : “ When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1 Cor. xi. 32). The carnal, reprobate world are left to a looser and larger discipline. Brambles are not pruned when vines are. New creatures require a more close inspection than others do. Self-confidence and spiritual security is apt to grow upon them; therefore, to mortify our self-confidence, to awaken us out of spiritual sleep, we need to be afflicted, and also to quicken and rouse up a spirit of prayer. We grow cold and flat, and ask mercies for form's sake : “ Lord, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them” (Isa. xxvi. 16). And that we inay be quickened to a greater mindfulness of heavenly things (the best of us, when we get a carnal pillow under our heads, are apt to sleep secure), God will not let us alone to our ruin, but afflicts us that we may be refined from the dregs of the flesh, and that our gust and relish of heavenly things may be recovered, and that we may be quickened to a greater diligence in the heavenly life. Look, as earthly parents are not faithful to their children's souls when they live at large, and omit that correction which is necessary for them: “ The rod and reproof give wisdom; but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame" (Prov. xxix. 15). The mother is mentioned, because they are usually more fond and indulgent, and spare many times and mar the child; but our heavenly Father will not be unfaithful, who is so wise, that he will not be blinded by any passion; hath such a perfect love, and does so fixedly design our eternal welfare, that he rebuketh that he may reform, and reformeth that he may save.
4thly, God's faithfulness about the affliction is twofold ; in bringing on the affliction, and guiding the affliction,
1. In bringing on the affliction, both as to the time and kind; when our need requireth, and such as may do the work: “For a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness” (1 Pet. i. 6). When some distemper was apt to grow upon us, and we were straggling from our duty : “Before I was afflicted, I went astray” (Psalm cxix. 67). Some disappointment and check we meet with in a way of sin, which is a notable help in the spiritual life where God giveth a heart to improve it.
2. As to guiding the affliction both to measure and continuance, that it may do us good and not harm : “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. x. 13). Violent temptations are not permitted where the Lord seeth us weak and infirm : as Jacob drove as the little ones were able to bear ; so, when the temptation continued is likely to do us hurt, either God will remove it, “ The Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you and keep you, and rõ rovnpă, from evil” (2 Thes. iii, 3); the persecutions of unreasonable men are there intended; or else support them under it: “ My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Cor. xii. 9).
USE I.-Is to check and reprove divers evils which are apt to grow upon our spirits in our troubles.
1. Murmuring and repining thoughts against God's providence. Why should we murmur and complain, since we justly suffer what we suffer, and it is the Lord's condescension that he will make some good use of these sufferings to our eternal happines, that we may be capable of everlasting consolation. His justice should stop murmurings : “ Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" (Lam. iii. 39.) If he complain, he can complain of none but himself, that evil choice he hath made for his own soul, which, it may be, he would never have thought of but upon this occasion. His punishment here carrieth no proportion with his offence: it is punishment in the singular number, sins in the plural; one punishment for many acts of sin: and a living man on this side Hell, what is this to everlasting torments? Life cannot be without many blessings to accompany it; while living, we may see an end of this misery, or have time to escape those eternal torments which are far worse. The form of the words showeth why we should thus expostulate with ourselves, “ Wherefore doth a living man complain?" Why do we complain? God hath not cut us off from the land of the living, nor cast
us into Hell; it is the punishment of sin, and it is far less than we have deserved. Again, the faithfulness of God checketh murmurings : God knoweth what way to take with us to bring us to glory; therefore trust yourselves in God's hands, and let him take his own methods : Commit your souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator (1 Pet. iv. 19). He is 50g stisns: as he is a Creator, he doth not love to destroy the work of his hands; as he is faithful in his covenant, he will take the best and safest course to bring you to Heaven.
2. Let it check immoderate sorrow and uncomely dejection of spirit; he is just in the afflictions of his people, but yet so that he is also faithful; he is a father, when he beateth and indulgeth, when he smiles and when he frowns. Afflictions do not make void our adoption, they rather increase our confidence of it (Heb. xii. 6). Whatever we do upon other reasons, we should not suspect his love because of our afflictions. God's strokes do not make void his promises, nor doth he retract his gift of pardon when he chastiseth. Mere crosses and troubles are not an argument of God's displeasure, but acts of his faithfulness; so that we have reason to give thanks for his discipline, rather than question his love. In the book of Job it is made a mark of his love, as in those words which are so frequent, “ What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him ? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him ? and that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?" (Job vii. 17, 18.) We are not only beneath his anger, but unworthy of his care, as if a prince should take upon him to form the manners of a beggar's child: it is a condescension that the great God should deal with us, and suit his providences for our good.
3. This should check our fears and cares, his judgments are right and full of faithfulness: he will bear us through all our trials, and make an advantage of them; and perfect that grace which he hath begun, and finally bring us to eternal glory. The Lord's faithfulness in keeping pro. mises is often propounded as a strong pillar of the saints' confidence : “God is faithful by whom ye were called" (1 Cor. i. 9); “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Thes. v. 24). He dispenseth all things with respect to our eternal welfare. But, “I am afraid of myself, I have provoked the Lord to leave me to myself. But the Lord will pardon weaknesses when they are confessed : “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John i. 9), speaking to reconciled believers; and, when we fall, the Lord hath ways and means to raise us up again, that we perish not: by checks of conscience : “ And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people” (2 Sam. xxiv. 10); “I thought on my ways,” &c. (Psalm cxix. 59); by the word, as Nathan roused up David : “ Thou art the man.” God, that foresaw all things, hath ordered them so, that nothing shall cross his eternal purpose and promise made to us in Christ.
USE II.-Let us acknowledge God's justice and faithfulness in all things that befall us. For motives, consider,
1. It is much for the honour of God (Psalm li. 4), that under the cross we should have good thoughts of God, and clear him in all that he saith and doth; see love in his rebukes.
2. It is for our profit; it is the best way to obtain grace to bear afflictions, or to get deliverance out of them. When God hath humbled his people, exercised their grace, he will restore to them their wonted privileges : he waiteth for the creature's humbling (Levit. xxvi. 41, 42). For means,
1. You must be one in covenant with God; for to them the dispensations of God come marked not only with justice as to all, but faithfulness : “ All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant” (Psalm xxv. 10).
2. You must examine yourselves : the Lord complains of the neglect of this, that, when they were in affliction, they would not consider: no man said, “ What have I done?” (Jer. viii. 6.) If you would consider, you would see cause enough to justify God: “Wherefore doth a living man complain, &c. Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord” (Lam. ii. 39, 40).
3. You must observe Providence, and your hearts must be awake and attend to it: “ Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord” (Psalm cvü. 43); “In the day of adversity, consider" (Eccl. vii. 14).
4. You must be such as value not your happiness by the increase or decrease of worldly comforts, but by the increase or decrease of grace in your souls: “For which cause we faint not; but, though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Cor. iv. 16). If you value yourselves by your outward condition, you will still be imbrangled; you should more highly esteem of, and be more solicitous about, the welfare of your souls in the time of affliction, than of all things else in the world; and you will more easily submit, and more wisely consider of bis doing, and the better understand your interest. When the main care is about your souls, you will value other losses the less, as long as your jewel is in safe hands.
5. You must resign your souls to God entirely without exception, refer yourselves to his methods, and let him take his own way to bring you to everlasting glory. When you do with quietness of heart put yourselves into God's hands, as being persuaded of his love and faithfulness, you will be the sooner satisfied in God's providence, seeing he doth all things well. The Apostle bids you put your souls in Christ's hands (1 Pet. iv. 19), and hold on your duty with courage and confidence, cheerfully and constantly. You have no reason to doubt that Christ will take the custody and charge of the soul that is committed to him: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him” (2 Tim. i. 12). Venture your souls in this bottom; he hath power to keep it, he hath pawned his faithfulness in the promise.
SERMON LXXXIV. VERSE 76.—Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my com
fort ; according to thy word unto thy servant. In the foregoing verse, he had acknowledged that God had afflicted him, and now he prayeth that God would comfort him. The same hand that woundeth must heal; and from whom we have our affliction, we must have our comfort : “ Come, and let us return unto the Lord; for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up” (Hos. vi. 1). Affliction, it is God's judicial act, a kind of putting the creature in prison; which being done by the supreme Judge, who hath an absolute power to save and to destroy, to ruin or to pardon, there is no breaking prison, or getting out, without his leave.