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every cure will not fit erery humour. All will not work alike upon all: he sendeth that affliction which is sure to work. He knoweth how to strike in the right vein; thus he cureth Paul's pride by a troublesome disease. None that study providence but may observe the wisdom of God in the kind of affliction, and how suitable it is to the work it is to do; for God doth all things in number, weight, and measure. Partly by the manner how it cometh upon us, by what instruments, and in what sort. How many make themselves miserable by an imagined cross; and so, when all things without are well, their own humours and passions make them a burden to themselves; and, when they are not wounded in point of honour, nor lessened and cut short in estate, nor assaulted in their health, nor their relations diminished and cut off, but are hedged round about with all temporal happiness, there seemeth to be no room or place for any affliction or trouble in their bosoms; yet, in the fulness of their sufficiency, God maketh them a terror and burden to themselves. Either by their own fears, or misconceit, or the false imagination of some loss or disgrace, God maketh them uncomfortable and full of disquiet; and, though they want nothing, yet they are not at ease; yea, more troubled than those that are called out to conflict with real, yea, the greatest evils. Haman is an instance: he was one of the princes of the kingdom of Persia, flowing in wealth and all manner of delights, in degree of dignity and honour next the king himself, and Aourishing in the hope of a numerous and fair issue; vet, because Mordecai, a poor Jew, did not do him expected reverence, "All this availeth me nothing" (Esther v. 13). So soon can God send a worm into the fairest gourd, and a dissatisfaction into the most flourishing estate in the world, that men shall have no rest night and day, especially if a spark of his wrath light into the conscience: “When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity. Selah" (Psalm xxxix. 11). There is a secret moth that eateth up all their contentment: they are under terror, discouragement, and want of peace: God teacheth them that nothing can be satisfactorily enjoyed apart from his blessed self. “ A fire not blown shall consume him" (Job xx. 26). Partly in the continuance of afflictions: God ordereth, taketh off, and layeth on afflictions at his own pleasure, and as he seeth it conducible to our profit. Variety of afflictions may meet together on the best and dearest of God's children, there being in the best many corruptions both to be discovered and subdued, and many graces to be tried : “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations” (1 Peter i. 6); and, “ My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James i. 2). One trouble worketh into the hands of another, and the succession of them is as neccasary as the first stroke. We often force God to renew his corrections ; ab assuetis nulla sit passio, things to which we are accustomed do not affect us; therefore under a general affiction, there come in many special ones to rub up our sense, and make it work the better. Under public calamities, we have a private one; and they come one in the neck of another, like waves. When God hath begun, he will make an end, and bring his discipline to some more comfortable and perfect issue. In all these things, the wisdom of God is to be observed.
4. The affliction so sent hath a notable use to reduce us to a sense and care of our duty. This is often pressed in the Scripture, The fruit of all
shall be to take away their sin. Afflictions are compared in Scripture to fire that purgeth away our dross : “ Now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. i. 6, 7); to the fan that driveth away the chaff: “ Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Mark iii. 12); to a pruning hook, that cutteth off the luxuriant branches, and maketh the other that remain the more fruitful : “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit" (John xv. 2); to physic that purgeth away the sick matter : “ By this, therefore, shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin" (Isa. xxvii. 9); to plowing and harrowing of the ground, that destroyeth the ill weeds, and fitteth it to receive the good seed: “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns" (Jer. iv. 3); to the file that worketh off our rust, and the flail that maketh our husk fly off: so, “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. xii. 11). The affliction hath a necessary tendency to so comfortable an effect. But because generals do but beat the air, and do not so well fit themselves in the mind, I shall show you it is either the means of our first conversion, or subservient to the reformation of those that are converted,
(1.) It is a means of our first conversion. How many begin with God upon the occasion of afflictions! The time of sorrows is a time of loves. The hot furnace is Christ's workhouse, where he formeth the most excellent vessels of honour and praise for his own use. Manasseh, Paul, and the jailor in the Acts, were all chosen in the fire, as the Lord saith, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” (Isa. xlviii. 10), where God began to discover his choice by his working on their affections. All men are vessels capable of any form; therefore God puts them into the furnace. Most of us are taken in our month, as the ram that Abraham offered was caught in the thickets. When stout and stubborn sinners are broken with want and distress, then they come to themselves, and think of returning to their father: “And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise, and go to my father,” &c. (Luke xv. 17, 18.) Afflictions make us more serious: conscience is then apt to work. Before, we were guided by the wisdom of the flesh, and governed by our carnal appetite; never minded heavenly things, till God get us under, and then we bethink ourselves. Have you never known any instance in this kind ? that, whilst they were young, rich, strong, noble, all their humour was for vain pleasure; to-day hunting, to-inorrow hawking, another day feasting; and then brawling, fighting, drinking, carousing, dancing. All the warnings of parents, the good counsel of tutors and governors, the grave exhortations of ministers and preachers, will do no good upon them: they are always wandering up and down from God and from themselves, cannot endure a thought of God, of death, of Heaven, of Hell, of judgment to come: but, when God casts them once into some grievous disease, or some great trouble, they begin to come to themselves; and then, they that would hear nothing, understand nothing, despised all grave and gracious counsel given, as if it did not belong to them, scoffed at admonitions, thought the day lost in which they had not acted some sin or other, when the cross preacheth, and some grievous calamity is upon them, then conscience beginneth to work, and this bringeth to remembrance all that they have heard before; then they come to themselves, and would fain, if they could, come to Christ. Sharp affliction is a sound, powerful, rousing teacher: “ And if they be bound in fetters, and be holden in cords of affliction; then he showeth them their work, and their transgressions; that they have exceeded" (Job xxxvi. 8, 9). Grace worketh in a powerful, but yet in a moral way, congruously but forcibly, and by a fit accommodation of circumstances; one place more: “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus: Thou hast chastised me and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God” (Jer. xxxi. 18). Affliction awakeneth serious reflections upon our ways; therefore, take heed what ye do with the convictions that arise upon afflictions: to slight them, is dangerous. Nothing breedeth hardness of heart so much as the smothering of convictions. Iron, often heated, grows the harder. On the other side, see they do not degenerate into despair, either the raging despair which terrifieth or the sottish despair which stupefieth: “ They said, There is no hope ; but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart" (Jer. xviii. 12). The middle between both is a holy sensibleness of our condition, which is a good preparation for the great duties of the Gospel. The work of conversion is at first difficult and troublesome; but pass over this brunt, and all things will be sweet and easy. The bullock, at first yoking, is most unruly; and fire, at the first kindling, casts forth most smoke: so, when sin is revived, it brings forth death : “For I was alive without the law once; but, when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (Rom. vii. 9). But yet cherish the work, till God speak peace upon sound terms.
(2.) It is a great help to those that are converted already. How many are reduced to a more serious, lively practice of godliness by their troubles ! We are rash, inconsiderate, unattentive to our duty; but the rod maketh us cautious and diligent. We follow the world, not the word of God: the vanities thereof take us off from minding the promises or precepts of the word, till the affliction cometh. In short, there is none of us so tamed and subdued to God, but that we need to be tamed more. We are all for carnal liberty, there is a wantonness in us. We are high-minded, earthlyminded, till God come with his scourge to reclaim us: he chasteneth us for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness (Heb. xii. 10). Some lust still needeth mortifying, or some grace needeth exercising. Our pride needs to be mortified, or our affections to be weaned from the world. The almond-tree is made more fruitful by driving nails into it, because that letteth out a noxious gum that hindereth its fruitfulness: so, when God would have you thrive more, he makes you feel the sharpness of affliction. You have heard Plutarch's story of Jason of Chærea, that had his imposthume let out by a casual wound. There is some corruption God would let out. We are apt to set up our rest here; and therefore we need to be disturbed; to have the world crucified to us (Gal. vi. 14), that the cumber of the world may drive us to seek for rest, where it is only to be found, and to humble us by outward defects, that we may look after inward abundance, that, by being poor in this world, we may be rich in faith (James ii. 5), and, having nothing in the creature, we may possess all things in God (2 Cor. vi. 10), and be enlarged inwardly, as we are straitened out. wardly; in short, that we may be oftener with God. God sent a tempest after Jonah. Absalom set Joab's barley-field on fire, and then he came to him (2 Sam. xiv. 30, 31): “Lord, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them (Isa. xxvi. 16); ** In their affliction they will seek me early” (Hos. v. 15). It were endless to run out in discourses of this nature.
5. The affliction, of itself, doth not work thus, but as sanctified and accompanied with the Spirit of God. If the affliction, of itself, and by itself, would do it, it would do so always; but that, we see by experience, it doth not in itself. It is an evil and a pain that is the consequent and the fruit of sin, and so breedeth impatience, despair, murmuring, and blasphemy against God. As it is a legal curse, other fruit cannot be expected of it but reviving terrors of heart, and repinings against the sovereignty of God. We see often the same affliction that maketh one humble, maketh another raging; the same poverty that maketh one full of dependence upon God, maketh another full of shifts and evil courses whereby to supply his want. No, it is understood of sanctified crosses, when grace goeth along with them to bless them to us : “ Surely after that I was turned, I repented ; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh : I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth” (Jer. xxsi. 19); after God had wrought a gracious change in him by his afflicting hand and Spirit working together. So, “ Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law” (Psalm xciv. 12): the rod must be expounded by the word; and both must be effectually applied by the Spirit. Grace is God's immediate creature and production : he useth subservient means and helps, sometimes the word, sometimes the rod, sometimes both; but neither doth anything without his Spirit.
6. This benefit, though gotten by sharp atllictions, should be owned and thankfully acknowledged as a great testimony and expression of God's love to us. So doth David to the praise of God. It is a branch that belongeth to the thanksgiving mentioned verse 65, “Thou hast dealt well with thy servant, O Lord, according unto thy word,” the first of this octonary. We are prejudiced against the cross out of a self-love, a mistaken self-love. We love ourselves more than we love God, and the ease of the body more than the welfare of the soul, and the world more than Heaven, and our temporal pleasure and contentment more than our spiritual and eternal benefit; and, therefore, we cannot endure to hear of the cross, much more to bear it. Oh! this doth not become men, surely it doth not become Christians ! Would you have your consolation here: (Luke vi. 24;) your portion here? (Psalm xvii. 14.) Would you value yourselves by the flourishing of the outward man, or the renewing of the inward man? (2 Cor. iv, 16.) Should we be so impatient of the cross? Afflictions are bitter to present sense ; but yet they are healthful to the soul : they are not so bitter at present feeling, as they will be sweet in the after fruits. Now, we are greatly un. thankful to God, if the bitterness be not lessened and tempered by this fruit and profit. Consider, when are we most miserable ? when we go astray, or when we are reduced into the right way? when we are engaged in a rebellion against God, or when brought into a sense of our duty ? “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone” (Hosca iv, 17). “Let him alone,” is
the heaviest judgment that can be laid upon a poor creature. Providence, conscience, ministry, let him alone: the case is desperate, and we are incorrigible, when we are left to our own ways. There needeth no more to make our case miserable and sad, than to be suffered to go on in sin without lett and restraint: there is no hope of such: God seemeth to cast them off, and to desert and leave them to their own lusts. It is evident he mindeth not their salvation, but leaveth them to the world, to be condemned with the world. Well then, doth God do the elect any harm when he casts them into great troubles? If we use violence to a man that is ready to be drowned, and in pulling him out of the waters should break an arm or a leg, would he not be thankful? Yes,' says he, “I can dispense with that; for you have saved my life.' So may God's children bless his name: *Oh! blessed Providence! I had been a witless fool, and gone on in a course of sin, if God had not awakened me.' A philosopher could say, that he never made better voyage than when he suffered shipwreck, because then he began to apply himself to the study of wisdom : surely a Christain should say, "Blessed be God! that he laid his chastenings upon me, and brought me to a serious, heavenly mind : I should otherwise have been a carnal fool as others are. Wicked men are left to their own swing. When the case of the sick is desperate, physicians let them alone, give them leave to take anything they have a mind unto. The Apostle speaketh much to this purpose : “ Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. xii. 6). Sharp afflictions, which in their visible appearance seem tokens of God's hatred, are rather tokens of his love. There is a twofold love of God, Amor benevolentiæ et complacentiæ ; the love of good-will, whereby the Lord out of the purposes of his own free grace doth regenerate us, and adopt us into his family, and having loved us, and made us amiable, he doth then delight in us. The text alleged may be expounded of either. Oh! then, why do not we more own God in our afflictions? if he use us a little hardly, it is not an argument of his hatred, but his love. Thou darest not pray, 'Lord, let me have my worldly comforts, though they damn me ; let me not be afflicted, though it will do me good ; and, if thou darest not pray so, will you repine when God seeth this course necessary for us, and taketh away the fuel of our lusts? Is it not a good exchange to part with outward comforts for inward holiness? If he take away our quiet, and give us peace of conscience; our worldly goods, and give us true riches; have we cause to complain? If outward wants be recompensed with an abundance of inward grace, if we have less of the world that we may bave more of God, a healthy soul in a sickly body, it is just matter of thanksgiving: “I wish, above all things, that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth" (3 John 2). We can subscribe to this in the general: all will affirm that afflictions are profitable, and that it is a good thing to be patient and submissive under them ; but, when any cross cometh to knock at our door, we are loth to give it entrance; and, if it thrust in upon us, we fret and fume, and our souls sit uneasy; and all because we are addicted so unreasonably to the ease of the flesh, the quiet, happiness, and welfare of the carnal life, and have so little regard to life spiritual.
7. At the first coming of the affliction, we do not see this benefit so well as in the review of the whole dispensation : “Before I was atllicted, I went astray; but now have I kept thy word.” So, “Now, no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it